Natural light therapy for kids is as simple as opening curtains during the day to allow natural light to enter a room, or having children sit near light therapy products early in the day. Just as light therapy, or phototherapy, is safe and effective for adults, it produces the same positive effects in children with autism spectrum disorder. By understanding how light therapy works and simple ways to use it, your child may experience improved sleep quality and a reduction in behavioral issues related to seasonal depression.
Light and the Brain
The body’s circadian rhythms are guided by biological clocks in the body that a master clock in the brain regulates. This master clock, located in the hypothalamus’ suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, responds to light. When the eyes sense light, they send signals to the SCN that tell it to secrete hormones or relay signals to other parts of the body. For example, when the eyes sense light, particularly blue and white wavelengths, they trigger the SCN to produce serotonin, which helps the body feel awake. In the presence of darkness, the SCN converts the serotonin to melatonin, which makes the body feel sleepy. An imbalance in light exposure disrupts hormone production and protein synthesis, leading to a myriad of consequences, including sleep disorders, behavioral problems, hormonal imbalances, altered insulin production, and stress on the body.
The Healing Powers of Natural Light Therapy for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism survivor and neuroscientist Jean Genet states that damaged crystalline structures in neural pathways lead to the development of autism in children because they halt speech, physical, emotional and mental development. He believes that exposure to light wavelengths in rainbow colors (i.e., red, orange, green, blue, indigo, yellow and violet) using light therapy will repair the damaged structures and allow a child to develop more normally.
In autistic children who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, light therapy may help relieve symptoms of depression and improve behavioral issues. Researchers believe there is a link between SAD and the shorter days that occur in the fall and winter seasons. They have found that the supplemental light from phototherapy products helps relieve symptoms associated with SAD, as well as:
- Potentially lower the child’s dose of antidepressants or sleep medications
- Reduce sleep-related problems, such as insomnia
- Reduce disruptive behaviors
- Improve sleep-wake cycles
- Limit the use of sleep aids to help a child fall asleep
- Reduce circadian rhythm dysfunctions
- Improve daytime alertness
Natural Light Therapy for Kids
The best type of light to use for light therapy is one that illuminates at 10,000 lux and filters all ultraviolet light. Use the light in the morning after your child wakes up. Simply being near the light for as little as 30 minutes may be enough to relieve a child’s symptoms and improve sleep. The best times of day to use light therapy products are in the morning and afternoon. Avoid using light boxes in the evening or at night because the wavelengths emitted promote wakefulness.
Work with your child’s physician to develop a light therapy schedule. Keep in mind that you may have to work up to 30-minute sessions. Nature Bright carries a variety of light therapy solutions that make integrating phototherapy in your child’s environment simple. Consult with your child’s physician to learn which product would be the most beneficial.
[Photo from Vladimir Pustovit via CC License 2.0]