The Healing Benefits of Light Therapy

Updated on January 5, 2019
Ezria Copper profile image

My game plan is to research, condense my findings, and translate it into everyday language for busy people.

Can you benefit from phototherapy?
Can you benefit from phototherapy? | Source

What Is Light Therapy?

Light therapy has been used to treat a variety of ailments and is presently being studied for its effectiveness at treating illnesses. Sometimes referred to as phototherapy or heliotherapy, light therapy consists of sitting in front of a special light that emits rays that are close to that of natural sunlight. It is often used to treat certain ailments such as seasonal depression.

Our Biological Processes Depend on Light Cycles

When our natural clocks get out of sync, it can impact our sleep cycle, cognitive performance, and/or our mood. Dr. Schwartz, assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, states that while our ancestors spent most of their time outdoors, modern people do not. The majority of our lives are spent indoors and under artificial light. That's why phototherapy is a common treatment for seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) or what some refer to as the winter blues (what people feel when the days of winter are shorter).

Light Exposure Affects Melatonin and Serotonin

The reasons why phototherapy is beneficial is not entirely known. However, alterations in light exposure change levels of melatonin and serotonin which are both hormones that regulate mood and sleep. The rays of the sun or light are also linked to vitamin D production.

Human beings evolved under the day-night cycle. It is the natural time-keeper that sets our biological clocks within our brains and organs throughout the body.

— Richard Schwartz MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
The benefits of light therapy.
The benefits of light therapy.

What Conditions Does Light Therapy Treat?

Phototherapy may help reduce symptoms of the following conditions:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.)
  • Types of depression that don't occur seasonally
  • Jet lag
  • Sleep disorders (adjusting to nighttime work schedules)
  • Dementia
  • Psoriasis
  • Insomnia
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • A.D.H.D.

"In many cases, light therapy can replace medication for people with seasonal and nonseasonal depression, bipolar depression, and depression during pregnancy. In other cases, adding light therapy can boost the effects of drugs alone.

— Michael Terman, PhD, Columbia Univeristy Medical Center
Light may help reduce symptoms of depression.
Light may help reduce symptoms of depression.

Studies on Light Therapy and P.T.S.D.

There was a study done on 16 soldiers who had P.T.S.D. from serving in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. One group of 8 soldiers received 10,000 lux (units of light) for a time frame of 30 minutes a day, while the placebo group of 8 soldiers received fake light treatment via a negative ion generator that was inactivated.

The study was designed to specifically target sleep disturbance because going without sleep causes anxiety, increases depression, and worsens P.T.S.D. symptoms. The study confirmed that the soldiers who were exposed to real phototherapy showed a huge improvement in their sleep compared to the placebo group. The light also alleviated symptoms associated with P.T.S.D. and depression.

Results of this ongoing study show significant effects of bright light on disruptive nocturnal behaviors associated with combat P.T.S.D., as well as positive effects of bright light therapy on P.T.S.D. symptom severity.

— Shannon Cornelius, PhD, a graduate research assistant at University of South Carolina

Video: Does Light Therapy Work?

Emerging Research in this Field

Light therapy was practiced by several ancient cultures such as Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Rome. In our modern times, scientific research is being conducted to further reveal its application in treating diseases, illnesses, and conditions.

Research indicates that light therapy is beneficial for the treatment of insomnia, A.D.H.D., dementia, and that it helps to improve motor function for people with Parkinson's Disease. Some lights are used for skin disorders as well.

The full effect and benefit of phototherapy is still unknown, however, it is something that is being enthusiastically studied.

Disturbed sleep is known to interact with depression and anxiety in a vicious cycle. By reducing the severity and occurrences of sleep disturbances, it may be possible to reduce the severity of symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

— Shannon Corenlius, PhD

Did you find this article to be helpful?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)