Review looks at the potential role of light therapy in children, pregnancy and eating disorders

It’s early October, and here in the UK there’s a distinct sense that the days are becoming ever-shorter and the nights are drawing in. This change in lighting condition can, for some, spell a distinct downturn in general levels or energy and wellbeing. Others can be prone to food cravings in the winter. Still others can suffer from full-blown depression (seasonal affective disorder).

Getting out in the sun (even on a relatively dull day) may help individuals maintain a brighter disposition, but the reality is some are still unable to get optimal amounts of light exposure (for them) with this tactic. Help is at hand, though, in the form of devices which provide light of a wavelength that seems to have the most impact on mood and energy (blue light). I’ve seen lots of people do very well with these devices, even through use in the morning amounting to no more than 10-15 minutes each day.

You can read about light therapy for seasonal affective disorder as well as another couple of approaches in a blog post I wrote a couple of years back.

Recently, though, I was interested to read an article about ‘bright light therapy’ (BLT) which focused not on its value in adults with seasonal affective disorder, but in other groups including children and adolescents, pregnant women, and individuals suffering from eating disorders. The authors of this review admit that the volume of research in these areas is significantly smaller than that concerning the use of bright light therapy in adult seasonal affective disorder, however there is at least enough research to suggest that this therapy has promise in these other groups.

The review is ‘open access’ which means anyone can read it for free. You can access the paper here. It might be of interest to health professionals, sufferers and loved ones of sufferers alike.


1. Krysta K, et al. Bright light therapy in the treatment of childhood and adolescence depression, antepartum depression, and eating disorders. J Neural Transm. 2012;119(10):1167-72.

12 Responses to Review looks at the potential role of light therapy in children, pregnancy and eating disorders

  1. TerryJ 5 October 2012 at 10:03 am #

    “It’s early November, and here in the UK ” – check the calendar !

  2. Angela 5 October 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    “…early October…”

  3. Jane Robinson 5 October 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I understood from recent research that the blue light in computers affects sleep patterns, but reading this article, can we conclude that working on our computers might in some way help Seasonal Affective Disorder etc??!! This may seem like a stupid question but what is the difference between the blue light projected by the bright light therapy devices and that in computers?

  4. Victoria 5 October 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Uh, I thought it was October . . .

  5. Fred 5 October 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    I think I’m missing the sun, UVB and the manufacture of Vitamin D. This Vitamin play an important role among mental disorders.

  6. Dr John Briffa 5 October 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Thanks for all those who pointed out the Oct/Nov problem which is corrected now.

    Jane – good question. I think the two sorts of light are essentially the same and you’re right about those devices perhaps helping with SAD. However, exposure to these devices would be limited to the early part of the day, and not the evening.

  7. Fenella Lemonsky 6 October 2012 at 12:10 am #

    As a mental health service user and researcher with the Mental Health research Netwirk in LOndon, ( I welcome you bringing a very important area into the public arena. Mental health stigma affects so many and those who hold down jobs not just benefiut claimants. In the darker months many who work suffer greatly and instead of being encouraged to buy/assisted to rent a lamp they are prescribed medication. Even the drug manufacturers agree drugs alone are not the answer. These lamps when used propoerly are literally life saving for so many people. Do not suffer in silence-help is out there with lamps, good nutrition and in severe clinical depression adjunctive medication. Do watch your diet as it is easy to slip into easier to eat high carb high fatty foods but carbs in processed form will depress mood if eaten in excess. Healthy whole grains, rainbow selection of veggies and berries will help you stay on good form plus bananas and mangos I find help me a lot with lots of exercise both in and outdoors. really enjoying your newsletter. EXercise is for me a huge part of my stable mood now.

  8. Raquel 6 October 2012 at 1:44 am #

    I have the light box that you have pictured in your article. It works wonders to help me sleep in the winter. When the days become shorter I find that I cannot fall asleep very easily and I wake up at 4:00 AM. I start becoming sleep deprived and then I am releasing too many stress hormones from lack of sleep that compounds the problem. I sit in front of the light box 4 times a day. I bought this box from Philips online. This has saved my life!

  9. Helen Howes 7 October 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    To Fenella
    Please add “If you have a really healthy pancreas” to this recommendation

    “..Healthy whole grains, rainbow selection of veggies and berries will help you stay on good form plus bananas and mangos ..”

  10. Megan 8 October 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I also have the light box pictured. I was lucky enough to be part of a trial of this particular device and so, got it for free. I have to say that it works wonders for me. I have used it for two winters now and find that from just 20 minutes each morning, I find that my sleep is much more settled and I wake more refreshed. As I sit here writing this, I have my lightbox on – you reminded me that it is time to start using it! I am already noticing a downturn in my mood due to the lack of sunlight.

  11. Ani 10 October 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Thanks for writing about this John. I support women who are exploring their emotional eating issues and think that SAD and also sub-syndromal SAD is an important factor. I wrote a blog post about it not long ago ( I personally use a dawn-simulator and find it brilliant, I wake up feeling good, alive and refreshed, ready for the day (in the past I found autumn and winter very hard). I have found that when individuals are well prepared with information about SAD in advance of autumn they cope much better – with my own female clients I provide as much concise information as possible on diet and lightboxes. It really does seem to help.

  12. It is very impartmant that you are bringing this issue again.As a psychologist I often recommend my anxious or depressed patients to sit in the sun, preferably on the beach ( It’s still shining here in Israel, Ashdod). I’ve just returned now from the sunny beach myself, feeling that the season makes me need more of this brightfull and lightfull sun.

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