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Having a low-birth-weight (LBW) infant in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can intensify a mother’s sleep disturbances due to both stress and the dim lighting in the ICU setting, which desynchronizes circadian rhythms. The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the effectiveness of a 3-week bright light therapy intervention on sleep and health outcomes of mothers with LBW infants in the NICU. Controlled stratified randomization was used to assign 30 mothers to a treatment or control group. Data were collected at pretreatment (second week postpartum) and after the 3-week intervention. Sleep data were assessed by wrist actigraph (total sleep time [TST], circadian activity rhythms [CARs]) and the General Sleep Disturbance scale. Other outcome variables were measured by the Lee’s Fatigue scale, Edinburgh Postpartum Depression scale, and the Medical Outcomes Short Form 36, version 2. Mothers averaged 26.6 (SD = 6.3) years of age, and the majority were Black (73%). The mean gestational age for the infants was 27.7 (SD = 2.0) weeks. Small to large effect sizes were found when comparing the pre- to posttreatment differences between groups. Although none of the differences were statistically significant in this small sample, for mothers in the treatment group nocturnal TST (d = .33), CAR (d = 1.06), morning fatigue (d = .22), depressive symptoms (d = .40), physical health–related quality of life (d = .33), and mental health–related quality of life (d = .60) all improved compared to the control group. Bright light therapy is feasible for mothers with infants in an NICU. Clinically significant improvements have been evidenced; a larger-scale trial of effectiveness is needed.


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Lee, S.Y., Aycock, D.A. & Maloney, M.F. (2012). Bright light therapy to promote sleep in mothers of low-birth-weight infants: A pilot study. Biological Research in Nursing, 15, (4), 398-406. doi:

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