SAD, depression, insomnia, attention issues, hypertension, bipolar disorder, psoriasis - what do they have in common? Answer: They're all related to sleep - and, by extension, light.
- Having a disrupted circadian rhythm can lead to problems from jetlag to seasonal affective disorder
- One way to help treat circadian rhythm disruptions - along with a number of other health issues, ranging from depression and ADHD to psoriasis and acne - is to use chronotherapy.
- Chronotherapy may involve light/dark exposure; extended wakefulness; meal & exercise timing; and/or these methods combined with medications.
- Chronotherapies work by shifting your internal "clock," causing wide-ranging effects on your hormones, neurotransmitters, and other important brain & body chemicals.
- Want to learn more? Take the quiz above to learn more about your personal circadian rhythm, and whether chronotherapy could be helpful to you.
The big secret to sleep is that it's all about light: your eyes detecting light and darkness is what wakes you up or sends you to dreamland. These patterns in your body are called circadian rhythms. But if you've ever had jetlag, or if you've felt sluggish, tired, and even depressed in winter, you've experienced the effects of a circadian rhythm disruption (in the latter case, seasonal affective disorder or SAD for short. Most descriptive acronym ever!)
What you may not know is that circadian rhythm manipulation has been used therapeutically to address many medical conditions. These methods - collectively called "chronotherapy" - have shown effectiveness in the treatment of SAD; depression; sleep disorders; insomnia; ADHD; high blood pressure; bipolar disorder; cancer; dementia; allergies; psoriasis; acne; and more.
These methods - collectively called "chronotherapy" - have shown effectiveness in the treatment of SAD; depression; sleep disorders; insomnia; ADHD; high blood pressure; bipolar disorder; cancer; dementia; allergies; psoriasis; acne; and more.
It makes sense when you think about it. Almost all of your bodily processes are cyclical - that is, they occur regularly over the 24-ish hours of your internal clock - so when you alter those cycles, everything from your digestion to your skin to your mood can experience changes. Strategically and purposefully shifting your circadian rhythm can have a number of positive effects.
Chronotherapy can involve a few methods, including light therapy (structured light and dark exposure); wake therapy (extended wakefulness followed by prescribed sleep), meal and exercise timing, or any/all of these used in conjunction with medications.
How does it work? In the case of sleep disorders, the mechanism is pretty clear: basically, you're using light and darkness to train your body to be awake when it needs to be awake, and asleep when society says it's ok to sleep - at night. In the case of mood disorders and other health problems, why it works is a little uncertain - scientists are still working that out. But that it does work has been established by a large body of evidence. Essentially, shifting your internal "clock" has wide-ranging effects on your hormones, neurotransmitters, and other important brain & body chemicals - leading to the observed effects on mood, skin, circulation, and other body systems.
So what does this mean for you? Well, if you have SAD, this could really be a game-changer: getting a special light and sitting in front of it for 30 minutes a day at a specific time of morning could alleviate some or all of your symptoms. If you have insomnia, depression, or a number of other health concerns, light therapy may also be useful to you, either on its own or in conjunction with medications.
If you want to learn more, take this quiz to discover your personal circadian rhythm, and when light therapy could be most useful to you (the organization that created this quiz, the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, is also a great resource). Then talk to your doctor, maybe after reading up on studies that have used light therapy to treat your issue.