BOSTON — Morning bright-light treatment may be an effective adjunctive treatment for fibromyalgia, improving function and easing pain sensitivity, perhaps by shifting sleep patterns in a way that appears to help fibromyalgia, results of a pilot study suggest.
Helen J. Burgess, PhD, director, Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory and professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, presented the study here at SLEEP 2017: 31st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
Morning light treatment has been shown to reduce depression. Moreover, improved mood can lead to diminished pain and improvement in people’s ability to cope and function with pain.
Dr Burgess and colleagues tested the effect of bright-light treatment on function and pain sensitivity in 10 women meeting American College of Rheumatology 2010 criteria for fibromyalgia.
The women slept at home, keeping their usual sleep schedule for 1 week, followed by an overnight session in the sleep lab. During the overnight session, the researchers assessed baseline function (Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire [FIQ]), pain sensitivity (heat threshold and tolerance), and circadian timing (dim-light melatonin onset).
The following morning, the women were randomly assigned to 6 days of a self-administered home morning (n = 6) or evening (n = 4) light treatment, using light boxes 1 hour per day. Afterward, function, pain sensitivity, and circadian timing were reassessed.
On average, the women completed 84% of the scheduled light treatments. No side effects were reported.
Both morning and evening light treatments led to improvements in function and pain sensitivity, but only morning light treatment led to a clinically meaningful improvement in function (>14% reduction in FIQ) and heat pain threshold (P < .05).
Dr Burgess noted that the improvement was about equal to that seen after cognitive-behavioral therapy and about half of that seen after weeks of intense exercise therapy.
The study also found that phase advances in circadian timing were associated with an increase in pain tolerance (r = 0.67; P < .05).
Dr Burgess cautioned that more study is needed before light treatment can be used to manage chronic pain. “Our study sample was very small, and the results simply suggest that we keep investigating light treatment as a possible treatment to reduce pain and improve function,” she told Medscape Medical News.
Approached for comment, Shelby Harris, PsyD, director, Behavioral Sleep Medicine, Sleep-Wake Disorders Center, Montefiore Health System, New York City, said this is a “very noteworthy and novel study since, in terms of helping sleep and fibromyalgia, the researched sleep treatments in this population — that we currently have on hand — are cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia and medication interventions.”