Are short (blue) wavelengths necessary for light treatment of seasonal affective disorder?

J. L. Anderson, M. A. St Hilaire, R. R. Auger, C. A. Glod, S. J. Crow, A. N. Rivera, S. M. Fuentes Salgado, S. J. Pullen, T. K. Kaufman, A. J. Selby, D. J. Wolfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Despite widely published speculation regarding a potential potency advantage of short-wavelength (blue-appearing) light for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) treatment, there have been few systematic studies. Those comparing short-wavelength to broad-wavelength (white) light under actual clinical conditions suggest equivalent effectiveness. This multicenter, parallel-group design trial was undertaken to compare the effects of light therapy on SAD using blue (~465 nm) versus blue-free (595–612 nm) LED lights. Fifty-six medication-free subjects aged 21–64 years who met DSM-IV-TR criteria for recurrent major depression with winter-type seasonal pattern were enrolled in this blinded study at five participating centers between January and March 2012. Thirty-five subjects met the criteria for randomization to 30 min of either blue (~465 nm) or blue-free (595–612 nm) daily morning light therapy. Twenty-nine subjects completed the study; three subjects withdrew due to treatment-related adverse events, including migraines, and three withdrew for non-study-related reasons. The primary effectiveness variable was depression score (SIGH-ADS) after six weeks of daily light treatment. Secondary effectiveness variables included quality-of-life (QoL) and suicidality ratings. Using an intent-to-treat analysis, mean depression scores were different at baseline for the blue group (29 ± 5 versus 26 ± 5, p = 0.05 blue versus blue-free, respectively), and the initial score was used as a covariate. Baseline scores were not significantly different between treatment groups among those who completed the study, and no significant differences in depression scores were observed after 6 weeks (mean ± SD scores at 6 weeks: 5.6 ± 6.1 versus 4.5 ± 5.3, p = 0.74, blue versus blue-free, respectively). In addition, the proportion of subjects who met remission criteria, defined as a depression score ≤8, was not significantly different between the two groups (p = 0.41); among the 29 subjects who completed the study, 76% of subjects experienced remission by the end of the trial, which coincided with the beginning of spring. The QoL and suicidality ratings were also significantly improved from pre- to post-treatment, with no significant difference between treatments. No subject experienced worsening or non-improved symptoms over the 6-week trial. The main finding of this study is that subjects treated with blue light did not improve more than subjects treated with blue-free light; both showed substantial improvement on multiple measures. Failure to find differences may have resulted from methodological constraints, including a small sample size. Recruitment began mid-winter during an unusually mild season, and the trial was terminated earlier than planned by the study sponsor due to a failure to detect a difference. However, if confirmed in a larger randomized sample, these results suggest that blue wavelengths are not necessary for successful SAD treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1267-1279
Number of pages13
JournalChronobiology International
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 20 2016


  • Light treatment
  • seasonal affective disorder
  • wavelength

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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