Blue light therapy improves sleep disruption in patients with PTSD.
Sleep is essential for maintaining both physical and mental health, and chronic sleep deprivation has substantial negative effects on long-term health, relationships, and cognitive functions including learning and healing.
It is well known that sleep disruption affects how severe PTSD symptoms are.
According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson’s Department of Psychiatry and recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced better sleep, a decrease in the severity of PTSD symptoms, and more successful treatments after exposure to blue light therapy.
People with PTSD who seek therapy frequently find themselves in a vicious loop where poor sleep undermines the efficacy of treatments, negating any lowering of symptoms, which in turn worsens sleep disturbances.
The patient needs sound sleep to integrate the healing mechanisms brought about by cognitive or exposure therapy treatments in order to lessen and eventually erase the emotional burden of traumatic memories.
The director of the Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Lab and senior author on the paper, morning blue light treatment improves sleep complaints, symptom severity, and retention of therapy benefits, psychiatry professor William “Scott” Killgore, Ph.D., said, This research is exciting and special because it points to an easy-to-use method for helping those with PTSD retain the benefits of therapy long after the treatment ends.
A thorough analysis of daily morning blue-wavelength light exposure in people with clinically significant levels of PTSD was carried out by Dr. Killgore and the SCAN Lab team. The objective was to determine whether blue light therapy, which is similar to trauma treatment, would help with sleep problems, PTSD symptoms, and the maintenance of taught fear extinction memories.
Half of the subjects used blue-wavelength light, and the other half used amber light, for a total of six weeks of exposure to morning light. Researchers looked at the study’s behavioural, autonomic, and neurobiological outcomes.
In addition to showing significant reductions in the severity of their PTSD symptoms, the 43 participants who had blue light therapy also reported improvements in sleep and exhibited greater retention of fear extinction memories. The 39 study participants who were exposed to amber light, in contrast, demonstrated a return of the initial fear memories rather than the same retention of the extinction memories.
“While the limitations of the research include its modest sample size and difficulties monitoring compliance, the possibilities of utilizing a treatment that is relatively simple, drug-free, and inexpensive can offer hope for the large population of people living with the intense challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Dr. Killgore said.
“The data are thrilling,” said Jordan Karp, MD, professor, and chair of the College of Medicine — Tucson’s Department of Psychiatry. “This nonpharmacological intervention is a promising life-changing and life-saving possibility for people suffering from PTSD.”