Bright Light Treatment of Combat-related PTSD: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Shawn D. Youngstedt, Christopher E. Kline, Alexandria M. Reynolds, Shannon K. Crowley, James B. Burch, Nidha Khan, Seung Yong Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Introduction: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent consequence of combat with significant associated morbidity. Available treatments for PTSD have had limitations, suggesting a need to explore alternative or adjuvant treatments. Numerous rationales for bright light treatment of PTSD include its benefits for common PTSD comorbidities of depression, anxiety, and circadian misalignment and its relative ease of use with few side effects. The primary aims of this research were to examine the effects of bright light treatment for combat-related PTSD and associated morbidity. Materials and Methods: A randomized controlled trial was performed in N = 69 veterans with PTSD attributable to combat in Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Following a 1-week baseline, participants were randomized to 4 weeks of daily morning bright light treatment (10,000 lux for 30 min/day) or a control treatment (inactivated negative ion generator). At baseline and at the end of treatment, participants were rated blindly on the Clinician Assessed PTSD Scale (CAPS), the Clinical Global Impressions Scale (CGI), and the Hamilton Depression Scale and rated themselves on the PTSD Checklist-Military (PCL-M). Following baseline and each treatment week, participants completed self-reported scales of state anxiety, depression, and sleep, and sleep and the circadian rhythm of wrist activity were also assessed with wrist actigraphy. Results: Compared with the control treatment, bright light elicited significantly greater improvements in the CAPS and CGI-Improvement. The bright light also elicited a significantly greater rate of treatment response (reduction ≥33%) for the CAPS (44.1% vs. 8.6%) and PCL-M (33% vs. 6%), but no participant had remission from PTSD. Changes in depression, anxiety, and sleep did not differ between treatments. Improvement in CAPS was significantly correlated with a phase advance of the circadian rhythm of wrist activity. Conclusions: The most comprehensive study on the topic to date indicated significant short-term efficacy of bright light treatment on the primary variables (CAPS and CGI) with clinical relevance (i.e., treatment response) in veterans with chronic PTSD who did not report extremely high habitual light exposure. No significant effects were found for anxiety, depression, or sleep disturbance. Further research is warranted, particularly exploration of circadian phase-shifting mechanisms of bright light for PTSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E435-E444
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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