Can light therapy help with pregnancy-related depression?

Cloe Alvarado was diagnosed with perinatal depression just weeks into her pregnancy. At her worst, the 32-year-old often spent up to 17 hours a day in bed but struggled to sleep. 

"It's hard to be in the happiest time in your life and feel the worst you've ever felt," she said. 

But her life got a whole lot brighter once she enrolled in a clinical trial at Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. A study led by Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis is exploring whether light therapy and a prescribed sleep schedule in addition to usual treatment for depression can speed recovery and prevent postpartum depression.

Doctors have found a correlation between perinatal or postpartum depression and a disrupted sleep cycle.

"We know for some women that their brains are more sensitive to the changes in hormones occurring in pregnancy disrupt rhythms," Deligiannidis said. "We're able to reset the body clock so women are going to bed earlier, they get more restorative sleep."

The randomized study, which is still enrolling participants from around the country, is split into two groups. Half of the expectant moms fall under the control group and receive usual care. The other half, including Cloe, is given the typical care along with bright light therapy.

Cloe followed a regimented sleep schedule. Each morning she would flip the switch to a tabletop light box for 30 minutes to help reset her circadian rhythm. Within weeks, her husband James noticed a difference.

"The fatigue, laziness, depression and things like that dissipates," he said. 

Recent CDC research shows that about one and eight women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. And a recent analysis shows the rate of depression at delivery is increasing — it was seven times higher in 2015 than it was in 2000.

Cloe just celebrated her son's first birthday and changed careers to become a doula to help other women.

"I felt like I've gone through so much — if I can help someone, why not," she said.