Could exposure to light help alleviate the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

It seems deceivingly simple. Spend some time every day in full-spectrum light daily. Before you know it, your symptoms of bipolar disorder are slowly dissipating. Does it sound too good to be true?

Perhaps. But it appears that this natural, alternative approach to treating bipolar disorder may indeed work. Full spectrum lighting has been used for years in certain cases, especially for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression which overcomes individuals during the winter months. Now researchers believe it might also help those who are afflicted with bipolar disorder as well.

Phototherapy, as the treatment of mental illness with light is usually called, involves the exposure of full-spectrum bright light, directly on the eyes. This is usually applied with a light box or a light visor. Full-spectrum lighting is a specially developed to mimic the sun. It contains the entire range of rays of sunlight, whereas light from an incandescent bulb or a fluorescent light source do not.

This therapy has a person who is afflicted with bipolar disorder sit in front of a light box. If a light visor is used the individual has more mobility during the session. Normally, these phototherapy sessions are conducted in the morning. They can last between 30 minutes to two hours.

In administering phototherapy for bipolar disorder symptoms, the sessions may be short to alleviate the severity or the length of a depressive episode. Phototherapy is a welcome treatment by many, because it carries with it few side affects as do prescription medications for bipolar disorder.

Side effects to phototherapy as treatment for bipolar disorder include eye-strain, headaches and insomnia. The therapy is often scheduled in the morning to try to avoid the insomnia. These side effects can be ameliorated by using a technique called dawn simulation. This is where the intensity of the full-spectrum light is slowly increased to mimic the rising sun. In some cases, those individuals with bipolar disorder who use phototherapy for their depressive episodes find that it triggers a manic episode.

Additionally, many people find that the relatively short period of phototherapy brings with it remarkably quick improvement in their symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Of course, one major disadvantage of this form of natural therapy for bipolar disorder is the time commitment involved in the process. Moreover, this form of therapy for bipolar disorder is not reimbursed by all insurance carriers. However, if an individual with bipolar disorder is willing to put in the time, phototherapy with full-spectrum light may, indeed, be a viable treatment option.