How light helps in post-traumatic stress disorder treatments

Life is full of adversity, but individuals have remarkably different responses to conditions that could be considered adverse.

Biological, behavioral, and emotional factors all contribute to an individual’s capacity for resilience or vulnerability under adverse conditions. This capacity depends on diverse cognitive and emotional competencies, such as whether someone perceives the environment as challenging or a threat, along with their ability to cope with its demands.

Our body is prepared for survival thanks to the stress response of the amygdala (the part of the brain that reacts to fear), which keep us alert to avoid danger in certain situations. However, an extreme response by the amygdala when adversity happens can enhance the creation of salient memories, causing an excessive emotional response, physiological hyperarousal, intrusive memories, and nightmares extended longer than usual after the trauma experience when suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sleep disturbance is one of the most typical complaints by people suffering from this disorder and is the root cause of the endurance of both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This can result in a vicious cycle in which patients can become trapped in a cycle where worsening sleep exacerbates symptoms while those same symptoms aggravate the disturbance in sleep at the same time.

Prolonged exposure therapy uses continuous exposure to fear-based memories in a safe environment to create new memories that compete with the trauma memories until they are removed completely. Studies in animals and humans indicate a positive connection between sleep quality after this kind of safety-learning therapy and the end of anxiety reactions.

The latest research has found that light exposure could be a non-pharmacological method for balancing the sleep-wake cycle. Bright blue light (cold white) is effective to balance circadian rhythms because it suppresses melatonin at night. Furthermore, when exposed to this light in the morning, our body activates and is helped in the melatonin release at bedtime.

In a recent study by the Psychiatry Department of the Medicine Faculty of Arizona-Tucson University, researchers analyzed the effects of light on people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

They carried out a complete examination of the neurobiological, autonomic, and behavioral outcome changes produced by a 6-week treatment with daily morning blue light exposure in participants affected by PTSD.

They used a LED lightbox conformed with either blue (active treatment) or amber (control treatment) LEDs. Every morning they were exposed to this light for 30-min within the first 2 hours after awakening and before 11 AM. They filled sleep diaries for one week before treatment and throughout the 6-week period to monitor their sleep/wake activity. They also completed a cognitive assessment battery, resting heart rate variability monitoring, a fear conditioning paradigm, and functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging scans on the day before and after the treatment period.

The results showed that blue light treatment improves brain function so that it supports fear extinction and safety memories longer away therapy duration. This is an optimistic non-pharmacological procedure that could speed up the treatment progress by resetting the patients’ circadian rhythms and enhancing their sleep in a manner that stimulates extinction memory.

The best way to enjoy blue light is with natural light exposure in the morning. However, when it is not possible, circadian lighting can bring healthy natural light characteristics indoors. 

KUMUX lighting simulates the changing rhythms of sunlight in buildings where we spend 90% of our time every day. This helps our brains receive the light they need to regulate hormone release and balance our internal clock to sleep better. Thus, our brain and body recover better, and we have less risk of suffering from other diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular, metabolic, or mental disorders.

Let’s help our brains recover from trauma experiences with circadian lighting!