Best known as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder, bright light therapy may improve sleep, cognition, emotion and brain function following mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to a new study.
The study found that six weeks of morning bright light therapy resulted in a marked decrease in daytime sleepiness.
This improvement was associated with improvements in the propensity to fall asleep and night-time sleep quality, according to the study.
The bright light therapy also affected depressive symptoms, researchers said.
“Our preliminary data suggests that morning bright light therapy might be helpful to reduce subjective daytime sleepiness and to improve night-time sleep,” said Mareen Weber, Ph.D., an instructor in psychiatry at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.
“Importantly, the research also shows changes in brain activation during a demanding cognitive task, suggesting that bright light treatment might yield changes in brain functioning.”
For the study, researchers recruited 18 people with a documented history of at least one mild TBI and sleep problems that either emerged or were aggravated by the most recent injury.
They gathered data using Multiple Sleep Latency Tests, sleep diaries, and actigraphy, in which sensors measure rest and activity cycles.
All participants also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and psychiatric and neuropsychological assessments before and after the bright light therapy, according to the researchers.
The researchers note an estimated 50 percent of people who have experienced a TBI suffer with some kind of sleep disturbance following their injury.
Sleep is essential for brain plasticity and may be important for recovery, the researchers add.
“Improving sleep following mild traumatic brain injury could prove critical to maximizing recovery from the injury,” said Weber. “Furthermore, bright light therapy is easy and minimally invasive, requiring no medication, and has no known serious side effects.”
The study was published in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP.