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Psychother Psychosom. 2020;89(1):17-24. doi: 10.1159/000502891. Epub 2019 Oct 1.

The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
Competence Center for Eating Behavior, Obesity and the Psyche, Zofingen Hospital, Zofingen, Switzerland.
University Medical Center Freiburg, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria,



Bright light therapy (BLT) has been used as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for over 30 years. This meta-analysis was aimed to assess the efficacy of BLT in the treatment of SAD in adults.


We performed a systematic literature search including randomized, single- or double-blind clinical trials investigating BLT (≥1,000 lx, light box or light visor) against dim light (≤400 lx) or sham/low-density negative ion generators as placebo. Only first-period data were used from crossover trials. The primary outcome was the post-treatment depression score measured by validated scales, and the secondary outcome was the rate of response to treatment.


A total of 19 studies finally met our predefined inclusion criteria. BLT was superior over placebo with a standardized mean difference of -0.37 (95% CI: -0.63 to -0.12) for depression ratings (18 studies, 610 patients) and a risk ratio of 1.42 (95% CI: 1.08-1.85) for response to active treatment (16 studies, 559 patients). We found no evidence for a publication bias, but moderate heterogeneity of the studies and a moderate-to-high risk of bias.


BLT can be regarded as an effective treatment for SAD, but the available evidence stems from methodologically heterogeneous studies with small-to-medium sample sizes, necessitating larger high-quality clinical trials.


Bright light therapy; Meta-analysis; Seasonal affective disorder; Winter depression


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