Is bright light therapy effective? Generally, yes, it has the ability to cure some diseases. But in practice, it always depends on the situation. Paracetamol would not help with a broken leg either, after all.
Healthcare economists distinguish efficacy, effectivity and efficiency of a treatment. What are the differences?
- Efficacy means the ability of a treatment to make a difference. In the realm of traveling, we can simply prove efficacy of a plane by seeing that it can transport people from one place to another. Likewise, the efficacy of the bright light therapy is known: the lamps have the ability of improving sleep, mood and more. However, this alone does not mean you should use them. You don’t commute to work flying after all.
- Effectiveness describes the difference the treatment makes in real conditions. To make the step from efficacy to efficiency, we need to consider whether you have an airport by your destination and whether the plane would not be hijacked. In the case of bright light therapy, the effectivity depends on whether the effect of the lamps translates into a benefit for you, given the condition you have, as well as possible mistakes you may make with the treatment protocols and so on. For many conditions like sleep problems or depression the effectivity is proven. But again, there is more to consider: the price.
- Efficiency is the benefit achieved for the price paid. Knowing that the lamps are effective in depression, sleep problems and more, we need to consider the size of the effect and the costs. And this requires some more thinking from you.
Effectivity of bright light therapy: what to consider
Efficacy: Are your expectations based on the scientific evidence?
The BrightLightTherapy.org is devoted to sharing up-to-date knowledge about the bright light therapy. Take advantage of it and check the conclusions concerning the benefit you are seeking. Do expect a positive change – but do not expect more than what the research studies show. The lamps are no panacea.
– In depression, the effect sizes tend to be around a half of the one of psychotherapy (for a fragment of its price), as found by at least three independent reviews of scientific evidence. Check the meta-analyses!
– Similarly, there seem to be benefits for people suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other problems related to dementia. And fatigue and other struggles following pain or cancer treatment.
Effectiveness: Are you committed to comply with the treatment protocol?
In the artificial environment of research labs, the lamps were repeatedly proven to work, so the efficacy is guaranteed. However, the effectivity in the real life might be undermined by you forgetting about the lamp or not using it. This would make the lamp you may buy very sad as the only purpose of its life is to shine the light on you. So, first of all, you need to commit to comply with the treatment protocol daily for at least some weeks to witness the effect.
Effectiveness: Are you not skipping other treatments?
To me, this is a quite a personal topic. I spent a decade studying psychology and neuropsychology – and I was certainly not doing so to end up making people forget about all other discoveries besides lamps. I love the emerging field of brain technologies and bright lights specifically – but there is a risk in getting people amazed by the elegant tech solutions and making them forget about other treatments. The effect of lamps is beneficial per se or in addition to other recommendations: psychotherapy, lifestyle or pills when needed and prescribed. Importantly, the overall impact may be negative if the lamps make you skip all the other options. Two treatments are better than one!
Efficiency: is the effect worth the price?
There is a huge body of research proving that poverty has negative effect on the brain and mind. A proper lamp may cost about a couple of hundred dollars. If you can afford this without any problem, just do it! And do it ASAP, because every day of the treatment counts.
But in case the price is a problem, just think twice whether the cost might not cause you too much anxiety and financial worries. And if you decide to buy one, make sure to make the most of it: think of the light treatment as a new start, including new hope and new commitments!