Does Red Light Therapy Help Bipolar?
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Does Red Light Therapy Help Bipolar?
Create on 2024-04-12
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Bipolar disorder is a neurological illness characterized by both depressive episodes and elevated mood. There are an estimated 15 million U.S. adults who suffer from this disorder. People struggle with managing these extreme mood shifts – ranging from elated, irritable, or energized behaviour (manic episodes) to depressive episodes, with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and low energy.

Traditional treatments aren't very effective at eliminating symptoms completely, and they come up with possible side effects. Currently, there is a lot of debate going on about red light therapy. A lot of research has been carried out to know its potential benefits for different conditions.

Bipolar disorder

It is thought to be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder. In a meta-analysis recently published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, red light therapy showed positive results in reducing the symptoms of bipolar disorder with no side effects.

In this article, I'll guide you on how red light therapy can improve symptoms of bipolar disorder. So, stick around and read out!

Primary Usage Scenario: Symptom Management through Biological Rhythm Regulation

Humans have a natural 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm. It's greatly affected by sunlight exposure. In bipolar disorder, this rhythm is disrupted, leading to disturbed sleep patterns and mood swings.

One way to treat bipolar disorder is to regulate circadian rhythm-this can be achieved with red light therapy.

  • When light is emitted, it activates the retina in your eye, resulting in a stimulus being transmitted from the eye to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus regulates your mood. It also controls various bodily functions such as the release of hormones from the pituitary gland boosting your mood.
  • Light therapy helps bipolar patients to have normal behaviour, and it also calms down their emotional flow.
  • Red light therapy improves sleep quality and promotes deeper sleep. When you get quality sleep, it improves your mood and energy levels throughout the day.
  • Studies have indicated that it affects the neurotransmitters involved in mood and behaviour, i.e., dopamine and serotonin. It acts as an antidepressant by directly regulating these neurotransmitters.
  • Melatonin is a hormone in our body responsible for the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. Red light therapy suppresses its secretion during the daytime, allowing you to stay alert. As evening approaches and light exposure diminishes, its production naturally rises, promoting sleep.

Hence, red light therapy improves bipolar symptoms by regulating circadian rhythm and improving sleep quality. Overall, it causes:

  • Mood regulation by reducing manic and depressive episodes
  • Increased energy levels
  • Enhanced cognitive function
red light therapy improves bipolar symptoms

Red Light Therapy Treats Bipolar Disorder: Scientific Evidence

A pilot study was conducted on 41 patients with bipolar depression. Patients were treated with antidepressants combined with red light therapy for 8 weeks. This study concluded that RLT has shown consistent effectiveness in treating bipolar depression. It is safer and should be considered to enhance the therapeutic response.

In 2019, a systematic review was conducted for randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of light therapy in 259 patients with bipolar patients. A significant improvement in bipolar symptoms was reported with no side effects. This study concluded that there is positive but nonconclusive evidence that light therapy reduces symptoms of bipolar depression and increases clinical response.

We found trials of light therapy compared to a placebo in people with bipolar depression. This study found a significant improvement in depressive symptoms with red light compared to placebo conditions.

Adjunctive Treatment in Bipolar Disorder Management

Although therapy and medications are standard treatments for bipolar disorder management, researchers are also working on combining complementary therapies and medications to enhance treatment efficacy.

Red light therapy shows promising results in improving bipolar symptoms. When combined with psychotherapy and medications, it gives better therapeutic results. Here's how;

  • Various studies have indicated that when red light therapy is given in combination with medications, it improves the medication response. It can reduce the dosage and side effects by improving the effectiveness of existing medications.
  • When red light therapy is combined with other complementary therapies, it enhances the therapy outcomes. One of the complementary therapies is psychotherapy– it teaches coping mechanisms and emotional regulation skills. On the other hand, red light therapy improves sleep and regulates your mood. As a result, patients engage more in learning and practicing coping skills, indirectly enhancing therapy outcomes.

Application in Special Populations

It's quite challenging to manage bipolar disorder during pregnancy. Medications carry potential risks as they can harm the developing fetus. In this scenario, light therapy is the best alternative treatment option. It carries minimal and temporary side effects. Studies have shown positive results in reducing depression and bipolar symptoms in pregnant women.


Red light therapy is also a safer and tolerable treatment option for managing bipolar disorder in adults and children. If you have any other condition or disease, it's important to consult a mental health professional before starting any treatment.


  1. Lam, R. W., Teng, M. Y., Jung, Y. E., Evans, V. C., Gottlieb, J. F., Chakrabarty, T., Michalak, E. E., Murphy, J. K., Yatham, L. N., & Sit, D. K. (2020). Light Therapy for Patients With Bipolar Depression: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, 65(5), 290–300.

  1. Bipolar disorder. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

  1. Lam, R. W., Teng, M., Jung, Y. E., Evans, V., Gottlieb, J. F., Chakrabarty, T., Michalak, E. E., Murphy, J., Yatham, L. N., & Sit, D. (2019). Light Therapy for the Patients with Bipolar Depression: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 65(5), 290–300.

  1. Cuomo, A., Carmellini, P., Garo, M. L., Barillà, G., Libri, C., Spiti, A., Goracci, A., Bolognesi, S., & Fagiolini, A. (2023). Effectiveness of light therapy as adjunctive treatment in bipolar depression: A pilot study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 321, 102–107.

Bais, B., Kamperman, A. M., van der Zwaag, M. D., Dieleman, G. C., Harmsen van der Vliet-Torij, H. W., Bijma, H. H., Lieverse, R., Hoogendijk, W. J., & Lambregtse-van den Berg, M. P. (2016). Bright light therapy in pregnant women with major depressive disorder: study protocol for a randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial. BMC psychiatry, 16(1), 381.

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