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Sun lamp light therapy or phototherapy consists of exposure to specific wavelengths of light using LEDs, fluorescent lamps and very bright, full-spectrum light, for a prescribed amount of time. Sun lamp light therapy has proven effective in treating Acne vulgaris, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and for some people it has ameliorated delayed sleep phase syndrome. Sun lamp light therapy has been shown effective in the treatment of both seasonal and non-seasonal depression.

Sunlamps are electric discharge lamps that emit radiation of wavelengths present in sunlight, particularly the short wavelengths of the ultraviolet region. They bring the optical brilliance of sunlight indoors at the flick of a switch. Sunlamps can be used to treat a variety of disorders including bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and many others. In addition, sun lamps are used to help people get tan in general, and are used in various tanning beds.


In 1984, a seminal paper defining Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) described application of bright artificial sun lamp light for the treatment of winter depression. Dr. Norman Rosenthal and colleagues hypothesized that lengthening the daily photoperiod (in effect, mimicking summer day length in the northern latitudes) would lead to remission of winter depressive symptoms. Since that time, many centers around the world have conducted studies using bright sun lamp light therapy in various varieties and applications. These studies have refined the clinical issues involved in use of bright sun lamp light therapy, showing, for example, that it is not necessary to mimic the length of a spring or summer day for a remission of depressive symptoms, but merely to deliver the photic pulse, as short as 30 minutes, to signal a springtime sunrise to the nervous system. Studies have also been investigated the safety of exposure to bright sun lamp light therapy and, while found to be safe for most people, those with pre-existing eye abnormalities should undergo this treatment method with periodic eye examinations. 2005 was a signal year for the field, with consensus achieved by an American Psychiatric Association work group that sun lamp light therapy can serve as a first-line treatment intervention for both seasonal and non-seasonal depression. In other words, sun lamp light therapy is viable alternative or adjunct to antidepressant drugs.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Sun lamp light therapy for SAD has proven effective. There are a number of products (such as light boxes) using very intense artificial illumination that are effective for Seasonal Affective Disorder. These products must provide 10,000 lux or more directed angularly at the user's eyes, while filtering out any harmful ultraviolet radiation. Modern light boxes do not emit ultraviolet radiation. Sun lamp light therapy for SAD is an effective and safe way to treat the condition.

Circadian Rhythms

Bright sun lamp light therapy has proven beneficial is in the treatment of certain sleep disorders, insomnias. These insomnias are often associated with altered circadian rhythms of body temperature and melatonin secretion by the pineal gland. Selective application of bright sun lamp light therapy in the morning or in the evening has been very effective in "resetting" patients' internal clock to coincide with normal living schedules.

Future Applications

Bright sun lamp light therapy may include areas where a disease or syndrome recurs seasonally, shows winter exacerbation, or plausibly is related to insufficient or ill-timed outdoor light exposure regardless of the season. Examples of research include sun lamp light therapy treatment for bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, depression during pregnancy and premenstrual depression, adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, correction of discomfort related to shift work and jet lag, and behavioral disruptions of Alzheimer's disease including sleep and daytime agitation.

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