Blue Light Therapy Alleviates PTSD Symptoms

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Life has its ups and downs. But traumatic experiences can leave a long-lasting effect on the mind. When an individual experiences high levels of stress, anxiety, and worries about something because of a past traumatic event, these might be symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Other symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, poor sleep quality, emotional dysregulation, and emotional detachment. While medication is available on prescription as a treatment for this complex disorder, most people go for psychotherapy. As the world of psychology and neuroscience advances, researchers are testing newer treatment methods.

One fascinatingly possible treatment for PTSD could be blue light.

While we’ve heard of blue light in a negative context as being the ‘harmful’ part of screens that keeps you up at night, in this context, blue light simply means light that is coloured blue. This wavelength is believed to be the only one with the power to shift the human biological clock or the ‘circadian rhythm’.

Researchers from the University of Arizona and Harvard Medical School aimed to investigate to what extent blue light exposure can reduce PTSD symptoms. They recruited about 80 participants diagnosed with PTSD and set up a way for the participants to expose themselves to blue light at their homes every morning.

Blue light exposure had to happen within two hours of waking up or before 11 am every day for six months. What the participants did not know, however, was that they had been divided into two groups. The first group received blue light therapy, while the second group received amber light therapy. Participants were reviewed and assessed for PTSD symptom severity at the six-month mark.

Results showed a significant improvement in sleep quality for both groups. The blue light group also showed a reduction in other PTSD symptoms, whereas the amber light group experienced a return of original traumatic memories! (Does this mean some wavelengths of light can worsen symptoms?)

How do we understand these findings in simple words? The way people need caffeine to wake up in the morning, blue light exposure might also be causing a ‘fresher’ feeling. The improved mood might have prepared participants for the day and regulated energy levels, which often suffer in people with sleep disturbances (very common among those with PTSD). This regulation of energy levels in the morning extends throughout the day and results in a better ability to fall asleep at night.

Past research has shown that improving sleep quality can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms. It also decreases depressive symptoms, often comorbid with conditions like PTSD. It is a low-risk, easy-to-administer mode of therapy and can improve the outcomes of psychotherapy and medication.

Essentially, it is something that people can undertake for themselves without much involvement from a professional. However, like all other treatments in medical science, rigorous testing is still required. This fascinating idea that light exposure can contribute to curing mental issues needs more evidence. However, it is as promising as it is interesting.

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