• What is the purpose of this study?
  • Why might I participate?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • Who is eligible to participate?
  • What is the treatment?
  • More about our program and our staff

What is the purpose of this study?

The Clinical Chronobiology group at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center is conducting this study to test non-drug treatment for depression during pregnancy.  More specifically, we are looking to find out if exposure to light relieves symptoms of depression in pregnant women and to see if changes in the timing of your body’s biological rhythm (meaning your production of melatonin) are related to the therapeutic effects of light. 

Why might I participate?

Beyond the expected physical discomforts of pregnancy – sleep problems, frequent urination, appetite changes, weight gain and bloating – pregnant mothers face emotional challenges that can seriously affect mood, energy levels, productivity, social life and motivation.  Even if excited about the baby, some expectant mothers develop serious depression. 

Clinically, this is called “antepartum depression” – or depression before giving birth – and it affects as many as 10% of pregnant women.  It is also the largest predictor of a postpartum depressive episode. 

Participation is voluntary and treatment is free.  Participants receive expert diagnosis and supervision along with loan of the treatment apparatus.  Read below to find out if this study is right for you.

What are the symptoms?

Women with antepartum depression feel a range of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Feeling down, sad, or hopeless
  • Feeling bad about yourself or feeling you were letting yourself or family down
  • Trouble concentrating

 Who is eligible to participate?

Pregnant women from age 18 to 40 who are currently experiencing depression, whether it began before or after the onset of pregnancy, are eligible.

 Throughout the study, participants will continue to be monitored by their own obstetrician.

 Women will not be eligible for the study if they have a current medical illness or if they are using psychiatric medications, including antidepressants.  Any use of alcohol or recreational drugs is not allowed.  Participants also must be able to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

 What is the treatment?

During the study, patients are loaned a portable, lightweight light box to be used at home for 60 minutes each morning while engaging in any quiet activity with eyes open, such as reading, writing, or having breakfast.  Treatment continues daily for 5 weeks, during which we monitor progress with a diary, telephone contact with staff, and clinic visits every 1 to 2 weeks.

 Participants are randomly assigned (similar to the flip of a coin) to one of two different light boxes that produce different amounts of light.  Both provide significantly more light than you would otherwise receive indoors in the hours after you wake up. One of the boxes produces a total dose of light that is expected to be effective for treating depression.  The other produces a different dose of light that is less likely to be effective.  However, just as individual patients may respond optimally to different doses of a drug, individual patients might respond to either type of light box.

 You will not be told which dose you are assigned.  However, if you are given the less active dose and do not respond, after 5 weeks you will have the option of continuing treatment with the alternate dose. The informed consent process will include a discussion of the risks and benefits of participation.

 About our program:

The Clinical Chronobiology group is a worldwide leader in developing innovative, effective new treatments for depression.  Since 1984, we have pioneered the concept that environmental therapies – supplementing indoor light and air conditions – leads to an improved mood state in people with depression.  This discovery was made while treating people with winter depression.

 Our Team:

Dr. Michael Terman, Director, received his Ph.D. degree in physiological psychology from Brown University, and is a Professor in the Psychiatry Department at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons.  He collaborates in his work with his long-time associate, Dr. Jiuan Su Terman, and their associates, Dr. Ziad Boulos and Dr. Mila Macchi.

PLEASE CALL 212-543-6118 x2
OR EMAIL US AT NY-NJ@pregnancylight.org