Michael Terman, PhD

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Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Clinical Psychology

Dr. Terman is Professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry at the College of Physicians & Surgeons. He heads the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and the Clinical Chronobiology Program at New York State Psychiatric Institute.

His fields of interest include depression, sleep, clinical chronobiology, photobiology, melatonin, instrumentation, psychiatric diagnosis and assessment. He was graduated from Columbia College in 1964 and received a doctorate in physiological psychology from Brown University in 1968. With his career-long collaborator and wife, Jiuan Su, Ph.D., his research has followed a triple track: photobiology and circadian rhythms in animal models, clinical chronobiology and light and ion therapy for depressive disorders, and instrumentation development for chronotherapeutics.

The Termans have received continuous NIH support since the late 1960's for their basic research, clinical trials and instrumentation projects. Michael Terman was a founder and president of the Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms and is current president of the nonprofit Center for Environmental Therapeutics (www.cet.org).

He chaired the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Task Force on Light Treatment for Sleep Disorders. He serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Rhythms and Chronobiology International. In 2006, he received the inaugural Elliot D. Weitzman Award from the Sleep Research Society Foundation. Widely cited in the press, he has appeared on CBS This Morning; NBC Today; ABC 20/20, Good Morning America and World News Tonight; and PBS Breakthrough.

Current projects include: (a) light therapy for seasonal and chronic depression; (b) light treatment for jet lag; (c) melatonin pharmacokinetics; (d) antidepressant effects of negative air ionization; and (e) web-based clinical assessment of depression and biological rhythm disorders. In 2009, Dr. Terman joined two eminent European colleagues, Anna Wirz-Justice (Basel) and Francesco Benedetti (Milan) in publication of an innovative resource for mental health practitioners, "Chronotherapeutics for Affective Disorders: A Clinician's Manual for Light and Wake Therapy" (www.chronotherapeutics.org).


Development of chronotherapeutics strategies to alleviate depression and increase energy, alertness and sleep quality: bright light therapy, dawn simulation (while asleep), melatonin, and wake therapy. Development of negative air ionization as a non-drug, non-chronotherapeutic antidepressant.

Study 1: With a focus on patients with bipolar depression or chronic depression that has not been effectively treated with drugs, we are exploring a novel set of interventions that may quickly and stably reverse mood state. Patients begin with wake therapy (staying up all night), which can have a sudden, surprising benefit. In order to avoid relapse after recovery sleep, patients begin morning light therapy on a daily schedule, and for several days go to sleep and wake up earlier than normally (sleep phase advance therapy).

Study 2: Melatonin, although not directly hypnotic when taken at night, can induce the brain's circadian clock to shift earlier when taken before the onset of endogenous pineal melatonin secretion. By this means, it can counteract difficulty falling asleep and reinforce the effect of morning light therapy. We have devised a new melatonin formulation that slowly releases the hormone in simulation of the brain's secretion pattern, in an FDA Phase 1 trial to verify washout by early morning.

Study 3: In a Web-based research study of thousands of volunteers, we are assessing the sleep-wake pattern and seasonal variation in depressive symptoms across time zones in the U.S. Depression appears more prevalent at the western end of each time zone, where the sun rises about an hour later than at the eastern end. The problem may stem from waking in the dark, which may also explain the therapeutic response to bright light therapy.

Research Interests

  • Chronobiology
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders

Selected Publications

  • Terman M, McMahan I: CHRONOTHERAPY: Resetting Your Inner Clock to Boost Mood, Energy, and Alertness, Penguin, New York, NY, USA
  • Terman M, Terman JS: Light therapy for seasonal and nonseasonal depression: efficacy, protocol, safety, and side effects. CNS Spectrums 2005;10: 647-663
  • Terman M, Terman JS: Controlled trial of naturalistic dawn simulation and negative air ionization for seasonal affective disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 2006;163: 2126-2133
  • Terman M, Terman JS: Light therapy. In: Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 4th edition. Edited by Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC, Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2005
  • Terman M: Evolving applications of light therapy. Sleep Medicine Reviews 2007;11: 497-507