What Is Bright Light Therapy: Bipolar Disorder

The first time I had heard about light therapy was an article on a sleep website, and it interested me as bright lights are not conducive to my bipolar so much like Sherlock, I went to investigate. Initially, I thought it would be some hi-tech light show to stimulate the brain, but it’s not; it is a pretty low tech way to stimulate your Circadian rhythms.

What on Earth is a Circadian Rhythm?

what is bright light therapy and a picture of sunshine through sunflowers

The Circadian Rhythm (CR) is the natural rhythm life has on earth. We as humans are active during the day and sleep at night during a twenty-four hour period; this is the CR. However, those of us with insomnia or mental health disorders can find our CR out of whack, and this is where light therapy comes in.

Our bodies are designed to be out and about during the day and absorb natural light; the sun stimulates us to be active. This is part of our natural process; however, when our bodies are out of sync, we can often harbour ourselves away indoors or sleep too long or too little. We can end up living in reverse, asleep all day and awake all night.

Many people with mental health issues have problems in this area, and with the majority of people working indoors, our CR can be knocked out of kilter. Also, because of our current circumstances with the pandemic, more and more people have been in lockdown for months on end, and this has, in my opinion, led to bad sleeping patterns.

Light Therapy and Bipolar

Regarding bipolar disorder, when I heard about light therapy, I thought this could trigger a hypomanic episode. After further research, timing is key when using this therapy with those who experience bipolar.

According to Dorothy Sit MD speaking to the PsychCongress:

In our earlier case series report, we implemented the morning light therapy to patients who had bipolar depression were maintained on mood stabilizers. Intriguingly, 3 out of the 4 patients who were first enrolled in this study experienced an induction of hypomania and mixed symptoms rapid‑cycling within days after starting treatment.

As you can see, my self-knowledge about myself was correct; it would trigger a hypomanic state. However, as I continued reading the article, the study showed it can still be of benefit.

Usually, light therapy is a treatment used for seasonal affective depression and insomnia. Normally the therapy is recommended in the morning soon after waking, which I would suggest for those without bipolar.

You can buy light boxes from numerous sources by searching online.

What Is The Best Practice for Bipolar Disorder?

sunlight coming through the trees which is good for depression

The best practice for those with bipolar is to make sure you are stable with your medication first, and once again, I refer to the article by Dorothy Sit, MD:

What we did find in our earlier case series trial is that mid‑day light may produce a promising therapeutic effect for bipolar‑depressed patients. Given the promising findings, we then conducted a randomized controlled trial to confirm the efficacy of adjunctive midday bright light for bipolar depression…After 4 to 6 weeks, we discovered that 67% of patients given bright light therapy experienced a full response and remission compared to only 33% who were randomized to the placebo comparator.


This, to me, looks promising for my insomnia. However, I am not stable on my medication as yet. So I cannot undertake light therapy. This got me thinking, what can I do in the meantime to make sure my Circadian Rhythm is working as it should, and I came up with the following based on my research:

  • Spend middays outside, even if it is a lunch break, sit and eat food outdoors if the weather is nice.
  • Put a red light filter on all devices, which I do anyway.
  • Eat only when you are hungry for working with the Circadian Rhythm.
  • Work closely with your psychiatrist to stabilise your mood.
  • Use a meditation immersive treatment for help with relaxing before sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol; only drink camomile tea after 4 pm.
  • Get up at the same time every day, regardless of the amount of sleep you have had.
  • Work out a routine.
  • Those who experience hypomania regularly or rapid cycling should avoid light therapy.

In Conclusion

Light therapy can help those with depression; however, it is trickier with those who suffer from bipolar depression, but the research does suggest that balancing our CR with light therapy could be productive, providing we are stable on our medication.


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Lou Farrell

Hi and welcome to Mentriz, where all manner of mental health issues are discussed, from anxiety to bipolar disorder. You can find what you are looking for by using the search function at the top of the screen. All articles are for information purposes and do not replace the advice of a doctor. I hope you find the website helpful and if you have a suggestion, please contact me.

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