A bright idea for treating depression

I’d be willing to bet more people in this country take an anti-depressant drug than take a multivitamin. But just because they’re common doesn’t mean they’re good for you.

Not only do these drugs mess with your brain chemistry, but they also wreak havoc on your metabolism and significantly increase your risk of bone fractures.

So I do everything in my power to help my patients avoid antidepressants. And I’ve developed a very effective protocol of nutrients that can help ease the symptoms of depression in just a few weeks. (You can read more about this natural approach in the November 2013 issue of my Logical Health Alternatives newsletter. Subscribers can download this issue from the archives and view it for free by logging in to the Subscriber area of the website with your username and password.)

But I also just read a fascinating new study that examined the effects of another type of therapy that, according to researchers, may have lasting benefits for some patients with major depression. It’s called “chronotherapeutic intervention” and it combines regimented sleep scheduling and bright-light therapy.

The randomized, controlled trial involved 75 patients with major depression and lasted for 29 weeks. The patients were randomly assigned to either the chronotherapeutic intervention or to 30 minutes of daily exercise.

The researchers reported that chronotherapeutic intervention produced an “immediate, large, stable and statistically significant better antidepressant effect.” And not just minimally either.  Check out these numbers…

After just one week, 41.4 percent of the patients in the chronotherapeutic intervention group reported improvement—and 23.9 percent experienced a complete remission of their depression (compared to 5.4 percent remission rate in the exercise group). Within 9 weeks, more than 70 percent of the chronotherapy patients reported improvement—and a whopping 45.6 percent experienced remission.

The chronotherapy involved a period of sleep deprivation, followed by “recovery sleep” and also included daily exposure to bright light each morning. Sleep deprivation is actually a widely-recognized approach for curbing depression. The problem is, symptoms return as soon as you go back to sleep. So according to researchers, the bright light therapy appears to be the key to sustaining the antidepressant effects of limited sleep.

Now it is worth mentioning that the subjects in this study were allowed to use “adjunctive treatment”—i.e. antidepressant drugs. But the researchers insist the chronotherapy led to “an “immediate, large, stable and statistically significant better antidepressant effect.”

The takeaway here? As helpless as you can feel when you’re struggling with depression, prescription drugs aren’t the only solution (in fact, they can lead to far more problems than they solve). There are plenty of alternative approaches to explore if you’re suffering from depression.

In fact, good old light may be all it takes to lift your spirits.


“Maintained superiority of chronotherapeutics vs. exercise in a 20-week randomized follow-up trial in major depression.”Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.Epub ahead of print 2/17/15