Increasingly, light therapy is being used to reset our body clocks - sometimes along with melatonin and sometimes on its own-no matter how or why they've been put off track. Scientists are discovering that light therapy may have potential for treatment of several other disorders in addition to that of SAD.
Those suffering from this illness, find that they cannot sleep in the early morning. In a 1993 study conducted at South Australia, 9 persons who have suffered from early morning insomnia underwent bright-light stimulation in the evening. They were given photo therapy that involved exposure to 2,500 lux light from 10 p.m. to midnight. The result: They fell asleep at their normal times; but, stayed asleep an average of one and a half hours longer than usual.
A study in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada, clearly showed that students in classrooms with full-spectrum light had less absenteeism and had a higher academic-achievement than students in classes conducted under ordinary fluorescent lighting.
One type of insomnia involves a nightly inability to fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning. This often results in the abuse of alcohol and sleeping pills. It's called delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), or night-owl insomnia, and it usually develops during the teen years. Researchers blame it on having a maladjusted biological rhythm that doesn't say "good-night" until several hours past a normal bedtime.
In one study of people suffering from delayed sleep-phase syndrome, light therapy involving two hours of bright light exposure in the morning and then restriction from bright light in the evening hours, successfully altered the troubled sleepers' circadian rhythms. In addition, both sleep and morning alertness improved significantly during the treatment.
Some people have been able to avoid, or at least minimize the effect of, jet lag with light therapy. Experts recommend that if you are planning a trip eastward-to Europe, for example-you may want to try to get up a few hours earlier than normal on the day you intend to fly. Take a walk and soak up the sun, or stay inside with all the lights on. Stay awake and surround yourself with light. Then, once you arrive at your destination, try to stay outside in the sun for an hour or two. By doing so, you may be able to move your clock forward to more closely match the rhythm of life in the new time zone.
According to the National Commission of Sleep Disorders Research, people who work nights are two to five times more likely to fall asleep on the job and have accidents. Late-night sleepiness may impair the judgment of police, firefighters and ambulance drivers. In addition, a disturbing number of airline disasters have occurred in the wee hours.
In an analysis of ten studies involving nightshift workers, researchers found that the circadian rhythms of the subjects could be successfully shifted after bright light exposure at night and complete darkness during the day for four days. These shifts resulted in significant improvement in both alertness and cognitive performance during work hours. In addition, the workers were able to sleep an average of two hours longer during the day.
Later studies show that circadian rhythms of young subjects can be shifted more easily compared to middle aged subjects. In one study, the subjects slept well when given melatonin; but it did not improve their performance at work. The best performance improvement at work was found when subjects were exposed to bright light and asked to wear goggles when they are going home from work. The scientists speculated that the exposure to the morning sun may be affecting their circadian rhythm shift; and it can be prevented by wearing gloves. Most of studies seem to suggest that the workers performed better when they were exposed to the bright light treatment. To get the optimum effect, exposure of 3 hours was found to be all that is needed. There was no improvement when the subjects were exposed to 6 hours of bright light of 4000-6000 lux.
This binge/purge eating disorder typically develops in women during their teenage or early adult years. If bulimia remains untreated, it can cause serious physical and emotional problems. Some researchers have noted that bulimic episodes seem to occur most frequently in winter, leading to speculation that the illness might have a seasonal component. People who underwent high intensity light therapy had shown a remarkable improvement in this condition.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease-meaning that the immune system mistakes the body's own tissues for germs and attacks them. It strikes many more women than men and can cause a confusing array of symptoms, including fatigue, rashes, joint pains and kidney damage.
People with lupus are usually warned to avoid sunlight because it can aggravate their symptoms. But scientist have discovered that one type of ultraviolet sunlight, UVA - 1, helps relieve lupus symptoms.
Some10 to 15 million Americans are seriously depressed, and the suicide claims 30,000 lives a year. The success of light therapy in treating SAD has led to studies of its effectiveness for non-seasonal depression-with promising preliminary results.
The typical menstrual cycle lasts about a month, but some women's extend up to twice as long.
In a study, a number of women who suffered from prolonged menstrual cycles were asked to sleep with a 100 watt light on for five nights near the middle of their extended cycles. The result were amazing. Their cycles became shorter. Scientists speculate that the light might be affecting the regulation of female sex hormones. If so, phototherapy might one day be used to treat some cases of infertility.
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