Clinical Trials of Three Non-Drug Treatments for Winter Depression (SAD)

Light and Ion Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder


Lead Sponsor: New York State Psychiatric Institute

Collaborator: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Source New York State Psychiatric Institute
Brief Summary

We are offering non-pharmacologic therapy for alleviation of symptoms associated with depressed mood that recurs annually in fall or winter. The treatments are self-administered at home by the patient, with close clinical supervision. Our trials use specially designed devices that replenish two different environmental elements, naturally occurring light and negative ions in the air. Both factors may be reduced in winter, bringing on depression.

Detailed Description

The treatments we are investigating include bright light therapy upon awakening, and two contrasting treatments during the final hours of sleep: negative air ionization (provided at two levels) and dawn simulation (also at two levels), both switched on by a silent electronic timer or microprocessor. We hypothesize that the reduced outdoor light availability in winter, as well as reduced concentration of negative ions in the air circulation are both factors that contribute to depression. By supplementing the indoor environment with either ions or light, we are aiming to recreate summer-like conditions that are therapeutic. Our past studies have shown all three methods to have antidepressant effects in patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Unlike light therapy, negative air ionization is imperceptible (you cannot sense when the ionizer is active).

Applications to the program are accepted and reviewed throughout the year. Screening interviews for entry into the program are scheduled between August and February. Patients and researchers both benefit most when applications are received by the start of the individual's "problem season," because this leaves maximum time to explore alternate treatments. Candidates undergo a two-hour personal interview at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center that ascertains whether they meet inclusion criteria. At a second two-hour visit we provide a standard medical examination including blood tests, urinalysis and EKG, all without cost. As an alternative, physicals may be performed by one's personal physician. Once the study is underway, there are about five additional one-hour appointments for clinical evaluations, flexibly scheduled during the business day, usually about 10 days apart.

We provide the treatment apparatus on loan. All treatments are scheduled in the morning around the time of awakening. The bedroom treatments (negative ions or dawn simulation) end by the time of awakening. The bright light treatment takes place for half an hour after waking up. Initially, patients are randomly assigned to one of the treatment groups. The treatment must be taken consistently for three weeks at the same time every day, after which it is temporarily suspended to determine whether symptoms return. Given sufficient time within the winter season, patients then have the opportunity to try one of the alternate treatments to determine which works best for them. This provides an informed, confident basis for a treatment plan for subsequent years.

As part of the protocol, patients provide saliva samples on two evenings, which are used to test for the level of melatonin, a hormone that becomes active at night. Results reveal whether a person's internal circadian rhythm is early, late or normal, information that can be used to guide the timing of future treatment. This constitutes a distinct benefit for research participants, since such a diagnostic test is not yet available in medical practice.

Overall Status Completed
Start Date September 1998
Completion Date April 2004
Primary Completion Date June 2003
Phase N/A
Study Type Interventional
Primary Outcome
Measure Time Frame
Depression scale score 3 weeks
Secondary Outcome
Measure Time Frame
time of pineal melatonin onset 3 weeks
Enrollment 150

Intervention Type: Device

Intervention Name: bright light box

Description: 10,000 lux bright light therapy

Arm Group Label: bright light box

Intervention Type: Device

Intervention Name: dawn simulator

Description: gradual rise in bedroom illumination prior to wake-up

Arm Group Label: dawn simulator

Intervention Type: Device

Intervention Name: high-output negative ion generator

Description: automated air ion delivery in bedroom prior to wake-up

Arm Group Label: high-output negative ion generator

Intervention Type: Device

Intervention Name: low-output negative ion generator

Description: automated air ion delivery in bedroom prior to wake-up

Arm Group Label: low-output negative ion generator

Intervention Type: Device

Intervention Name: dawn light pulse

Description: rectangular light pulse matched for lux.time of dawn simulation delivered prior towake-up

Arm Group Label: dawn light pulse



Inclusion Criteria:

- Diagnosis of major depression or bipolar disorder, with regular onset of depression in fall or winter and remission in spring

- Able to maintain a regular sleep schedule

Exclusion Criteria:

- Presence of psychiatric disorders other than major depression or bipolar depression

- Current use of antidepressant or recreational drugs, or psychotropic medication or supplements that may affect mood

- Current medical illness or medication that might interfere with response to treatment

- Long-distance travel during the program

Gender: All

Minimum Age: 18 Years

Maximum Age: 70 Years

Healthy Volunteers: No

Overall Official
Last Name Role Affiliation
Michael Terman Principal Investigator Columbia University
Facility: Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center
Location Countries

United States

Verification Date

November 2005

Responsible Party

Type: Sponsor

Has Expanded Access No
Condition Browse
Number Of Arms 5
Arm Group

Label: bright light box

Type: Active Comparator

Description: 30 min exposure shortly after wake-up

Label: high-output negative ion generator

Type: Active Comparator

Description: 90 min exposure prior to wake-up

Label: low-output negative ion generator

Type: Placebo Comparator

Description: 90 min exposure prior to wake-up

Label: dawn simulator

Type: Active Comparator

Description: naturalistic incremental light exposure 90 min prior to wake-up

Label: dawn light pulse

Type: Experimental

Description: rectangular pulse light exposure 13 min before wake-up, matched for total illuminance with dawn signal

Study Design Info

Allocation: Randomized

Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment

Primary Purpose: Treatment

Masking: Single (Outcomes Assessor)