Red Light Therapy for Depression: Does RLT Help?

Red Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

A feeling of worthlessness, losing interest in life, sadness, and negative thoughts are a few common symptoms of depression. Depression triggers hopelessness to such an extent that a person might think of suicide as the only option left for them [1]. In this article, nuYOU LED gives a thorough discussion of depression and how red light therapy can be an effective intervention.

Depression may be caused by financial issues, unemployment, unknown fears, the loss of loved ones, and physical disability. The first step to deal with depression is to identify its possible causes and explore strategies to address them. This way, an affected individual will be able to live a more satisfying life. 

There are plenty of ways to help one cope with and overcome depression. Getting support from professionals, groups, and people who make you feel safe is one. Another is living a healthier, more active, and less stressful lifestyle. 

An Overview of Depression

According to World Health Organization statistics, around 264 million people worldwide from all age groups suffer from depression. Suicide is found to be the second major cause of death in young people today and nearly 800,000 people are dying due to suicide every year [2]. 

red light therapy for depression

What causes these people to give up on their lives? WHO states that it could be a combination of social, psychological, and biological factors that makes life appear meaningless. 

Although there are medications that treat different levels of depression, there’s a lot of debate going on that mental illness should not be treated with conventional medication, and certain other psychological treatments and procedures should be employed to cultivate positivity and “love for life” within a patient. 

Some of the most popular techniques include but are not limited to meditation, counseling, yoga, acupuncture, cupping, and therapies such as red light therapy and saunas. 

As the use of red light devices has become increasingly popular to treat depression, there is a need to dive deeper into some studies and find out whether investing in red light therapy for depression is worthwhile. Keep reading this article for more details.

Red Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Many people around the world experience a type of depression that is associated with particular seasons of the year. It often starts in the fall and continues into winter months. They feel negativity, anxiety, and a lack of motivation during this time of the year and get better once spring or summer arrives. 

This type of mental disorder is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and manifests as insomnia, anxiety, low energy, fatigue, and hopelessness throughout the day [3]. This disorder is commonly treated using medications, psychotherapy, saunas, or light therapy. As far as light therapy is concerned,  seasonal mood disorder lights or seasonal affective disorder treatment lights are used for this purpose. The use of light for seasonal affective disorders is now common for all age groups as research proves that it helps. 

A study was conducted at the University of Maryland in 2012 to investigate the efficacy of light for seasonal affective disorders. Patients within the age group of 18-65 were gathered through local advertisements and given treatment for two hours with light therapy in the first session. The study explicitly revealed that light therapy can be used for mood disorders and that there is a modest improvement of seasonal affective disorder symptoms after a single light session [4].

Suggested Post: Red Light Therapy & Mental Well-Being

Light Therapy for the Prevention of Late-Life Depression

Geriatric depression is a type of depression experienced in older adults. While it happens, keep in mind that it isn’t normal. Older people are more prone to depression because of certain unavoidable experiences in life such as the death of loved ones, relatives, loneliness, fear of death, loss of a job, lack of attention, and certain medical issues [5].

A study was conducted to determine the effect of light therapy on depression and sleep disruption in older adults who are residing in a long-term care facility. 34 old patients suffering from geriatric were given light therapy 3 times a week for four consecutive weeks. The results concluded that light therapy might have the potential to reduce depressive symptoms and sleep disruption and is an important intervention to ensure the mental health of older adults [6].

Benefits of Red Light and Why It is Better than Daily Sunlight

Red light therapy is better than sunlight for the following reasons:

  1. You can get red light therapy any time throughout the day. Meanwhile, you can only access sunlight during specific times of the day.
  2. You can get the right intensity that’s best suited for you in the case of red light therapy. The intensity of sunlight, on the other hand, remains unchangeable.
  3. You can get red light therapy indoors whereas for the sun you have to find a place where you can get adequate sunlight.
  4. Although sunlight is a natural way of treatment, the sun also emits harmful UV radiation – namely, UVA and UVB rays. You can avoid these ultraviolet rays in the case of red light therapy.
  5. You won’t get a tan or sunburn while you expose yourself to red light within a reasonable time frame. On the other hand, sunlight can cause sunburn, inflammation, and unwanted tanning. 
nuMAX red light and nIR device on

Antidepressant Effects of a daily Red Light Treatment.

Healthcare providers offer a combination of psychological treatments such as behavioral activation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), and antidepressants for depression. Antidepressant refers to medication that treats depression, anxiety, and some conditions involving pain. It is also used when a person has a certain type of addiction. 

Several studies prove that red light therapy can also effectively treat various mental disorders and thus can emulate the positive effects of antidepressants very well. 

The difference between medication and red light therapy is that antidepressant medications can cause unwanted side effects such as headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, and sexual disabilities. 

On the other hand, red light therapy does not have any side effects as it doesn’t disturb the biological functions of your body and is also chemical-free.

Red Light’s Positive Impact on Mood

A mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling and several inward and outward factors can lead to a positive or negative mood. One of the symptoms of major depression or clinical depression is that you have a low mood most of the day. Sometimes you feel down and other times you feel angry and agitated.   

The reason may be that while you’re facing depression, there’s a great chance that you’re confining yourself indoors and avoiding socialization. This reduces your exposure to the right amount of natural light which is primarily responsible for the secretion of serotonin. Serotonin is the happy hormone released by our brain to boost our mood and energy levels. This is where red light therapy can help. 

Red light therapy can be a great alternative for natural light exposure indoors especially if you’re unable to get adequate amounts of sunlight for some reason. To enjoy its positive impact on your mood, you can have light therapy for mood disorders. There are lots of useful anti-depression light therapy devices that meet this purpose. 

Suggested Post: Red Light Therapy for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Research Evidence on Using Light Therapy for Depression

Clinical research proves that the use of red light therapy for depression and its associated problems is beneficial. For example, feelings of anxiety are closely associated with all forms of depression. You don’t feel content in case you are experiencing anxiety and light therapy for anxiety can be a great solution for this. 

The efficacy of transcranial photobiomodulation (TPBM) in treating anxiety and mood disorders were investigated and therapeutic effects of three different near-infrared (NIR) dose on anxiety- and depression-like behaviors as well as levels of serotonin and nitric oxide were evaluated in a mouse model of chronic restraint stress. The results suggested that NIR TPBM had an anti-anxiety and antidepressant effect in mice [7].

Another study was conducted on 10 patients to test whether NIR treatment could improve the psychological status of patients. These patients had a previous history of major depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. The research concluded that light therapy may be useful for the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders [8].

Red Light Therapy for Healthy Sleep

A study confirmed the effectiveness of body irradiation with a red light in improving the quality of sleep among elite female basketball players. This shows red light to be a non-pharmacologic and non-invasive therapy to prevent sleep disorders after training [9]. Quality sleep is essential for athletes to enhance recovery and mitigate the effects of overtraining.

Have you ever experienced difficulty sleeping after a busy day at the office, and as a consequence, felt more irritable the next day?

Aside from overwork, depression can also ruin your sleep pattern. You do not like to talk to people, are unable to make appropriate decisions due to aggression and a lack of focus. You’re unable to enjoy yourself with your friends and loved ones as a result of feeling restless.  

As evening approaches, the dim red light emitted by the sunset signals that this is the time we move towards rest. Red light doesn’t act as a stimulant, and as a result, it helps our bodies relax and experience an improved mood the next day. Therefore, if you’re sleeping less due to depression, a red light therapy device may help you sleep well by improving your circadian rhythm, which is your natural internal body clock that regulates your sleep patterns [10].


If you’re experiencing depression, mood disorders, and excessive anxiety,  you can’t enjoy life to its fullest. Everything seems meaningless and you’re less likely to value anything around you. 

The right treatment can bring you out of these problems. Light therapy is one of the safest modes to treat various types of depression and conditions that are associated with depression. For example, seasonal affective disorder, geriatric depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety. 

The use of light therapy for seasonal depression and clinical depression has been proven by various research. Furthermore, but it’s also evident that negative outcomes of depression such as poor sleep, hypertension, and mood swings, can also be managed using red light therapy. 

If you’re facing depression, it’s best that you consult your doctor, explain to them your circumstances, and choose the best red light device for you. There are quality seasonal depression lamps or artificial light for seasonal depression available in the market. 

red light devices for depression

Written By Matthew Caldera

Matthew Caldera is the founder and CEO of nuYOU LED, a leading provider of red light therapy devices. As a dedicated biohacker and RLT specialist, Matthew aims to make science-backed information about red light therapy and self-improvement more accessible to everyone. To achieve his goal, Matthew uses up-to-date research materials and converts them into easily digestible articles, answering frequently asked questions of those interested in the power of red light.

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  1.  American Psychiatric Association. What Is Depression? 2020 –
  2. World health organization. Key Fact, Depression. 2020 –
  3. Melrose S. Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. 2015
  4. Reeves GM et al. Improvement in depression scores after 1 hour of light therapy treatment in patients with seasonal affective disorder. 2012 –
  5. Loving RT, Kripke DF, Elliott JA, Knickerbocker NC, Grandner MA. Bright light treatment of depression for older adults. 2005 –
  6. Wu MC et al. The effects of light therapy on depression and sleep disruption in older adults in a long-term care facility.2014 –
  7. Eshaghi E. et al.  Transcranial photobiomodulation prevents anxiety and depression via changing serotonin and nitric oxide levels in brain of depression model mice: 2019 –
  8. Schiffer F  et al. Psychological benefits 2 and 4 weeks after a single treatment with near infrared light to the forehead: a pilot study of 10 patients with major depression and anxiety.2009.
  9. Zhao J, et al. Red light and the sleep quality and endurance performance of Chinese female basketball players. J Athl Train. 2012.
  10. Sophie M. Light therapies to improve sleep in intrinsic circadian rhythm sleep disorders and neuropsychiatric illness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 2019 –

2 thoughts on “Red Light Therapy for Depression: Does RLT Help?

  1. Diane says:

    A friend of mine told me that RL can help with depression, she learned about you in an article last week.

    however, I don’t how much time and what’s the duration of the treatment, can you help me?

    • nuyouled says:

      Hi Diane,

      As our primary guideline, we recommend the below;
      Distance: Apply from 6-12 inches.
      Session Time: Continue for 2-15 minutes, depending on the distance.
      Frequency: Do this 2 times to 4 times a week until results are felt.
      Maintenance: Continue using several times a week.

      Thank you

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