If you have seasonal affective disorder, other forms of depression, or a sleep disorder, pharmaceutical companies have a host of offerings for you. You can try to alleviate depression with Prozac, or Lexapro. You can try Ambien or Lunesta to get a better night’s sleep.
But these drugs have side effects. Prozac and Lexapro, for example, can cause insomnia. Ambien and Lunesta can cause daytime drowsiness, which kind of defeats the point of getting a good night’s sleep. Most of these powerful drugs can cause stomach upset, which isn’t surprising, since when you take a powerful drug in a pill you’re putting a potent chemical into your stomach. Avoiding this is just one of the dramatic advantages of light therapy.
Light therapy’s efficacy for seasonal affective disorder was first studied in 1981 at the National Institute for Mental Health of the National Institute of Health. In the ensuing decades, light therapy has been established by study after study as an effective treatment for depression and sleep disorders.
Light therapy is hard to categorize as alternative medicine, because western medicine has so definitively supported it. But like many “alternative” or “holistic” remedies, it’s essentially free of side effects. The only kind of addiction light therapy can create is an addiction to feeling great.
An interesting study in 2006 compared light therapy to Prozac for depressed patients. Researchers at the Mood Disorders Centre in Vancouver, Canada, found that light therapy was just as effective as Prozac but that people felt the effects more quickly. If you’re depressed, of course you want to feel better quickly.