Medical students fight seasonal depression with bright light

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With the return of autumn and the change of daylight, many people suffer from low energy, trouble sleeping and depressed mood. Called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or more commonly known as the “winter blues,” this subtype of depression is relatively common among people in their 20s, including busy medical students who already face the rigors of academic obligations. and professional.

Medical students Marc Perlman and Ehsaun Heydari think medical students, in particular, could benefit from using bright lights.

“Studies have shown that bright light therapy (BLT) is effective in treating mild to moderate symptoms of SAD,” Perlman said. “At $25-35, BLTs are an affordable, high-value, low-risk, and effective way to treat these symptoms. We believe that it would be beneficial for all medical schools to provide access to BLT to students.

To demonstrate their theory, Perlman and Heydari developed the Bright Light Lamp Checkout program. Using funds made available through the Functional Medicine Interest Group, which they founded, they purchased three self-service BLT lamps from the library at Albany Medical College.

It is recommended to use the lamps for 30 minutes every morning soon after waking up by tilting the lamp at 30 degrees from the line of sight. Anecdotally, the lamps have been well received by students, with many reports of improvements in mood and concentration.

Heydari found the lamps useful before his long neurosurgical rotations.

“Even using the lights for a few minutes I improved my energy levels and found that I depended less on the coffee to keep going,” he said.

The students published an article about Bright Light Therapy in in-Training, a peer-reviewed online publication for medical students, founded by Ajay Major, MD ’16, MBA and Aleena Paul, MD ’16, MBA, while they were in medical school.

They also presented their research to students and faculty at Albany Medical College’s Medical Student Inquiry Day, where a record 185 abstracts were submitted this year in disciplines including advocacy, bioethics, services, health systems analysis, medical education, nutrition, patient safety and quality. research (clinical and basic sciences) and others.

Since graduating this year, the students hope to pass the initiative on to freshmen and sophomores to track outcome data to measure improvements in sleep, mood and academic performance after graduation. use of lights.

“We hope to use all the resources at our disposal to raise awareness of this evidence-based treatment and encourage medical schools to use BLT to help improve the acute and long-term well-being of medical students,” said Pearlman.

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