insomnia light therapy

Light Therapy for Insomnia

Many people have the unfortunate burden of having to live with insomnia. No matter how tired they are, they find it hard to fall asleep at night or may continuously wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to bed.

Insomnia can ruin your health because it prevents you from getting the rest/sleep that you need. If you are someone who suffers from insomnia, then red light therapy may be just what you need to feel better.

The Basics of Light Therapy

Light therapy is a very straightforward practice where you expose yourself to some source of light, a type that is brighter than your indoor light but doesn’t give off the same amount of strength as direct sunlight. You typically use a light box for a specified amount of time and maintain this consistency for several weeks. Many programs allow you to complete the light therapy from the comfort of your own home so you don’t even have to visit a specialist.

There are a variety of conditions that light therapy can assist with. For example, it is often good for helping with many types of sleep disorders including; jet lag, seasonal affective disorder, and depression.

Regardless of the name (you may also hear this therapy referred to as phototherapy), there’s building evidence that it can help improve the quality of your sleep. Due to the positive effect it has on your brain, this results in a better mood, and as such, improvement in sleep quality.

Does It Help Your Sleep?

Many times the reason you suffer from insomnia is due to a disruption to your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle that your body goes through daily. It is tied to your internal clock, responsible for helping you to feel alert and awake when the sun is out, and then sleepy in the middle of the night. When this system is disrupted, you may be tired during the day while wide awake at night.

The good news is that light therapy, when used properly, can help to reset your circadian rhythm. Once back on track, you will be able to improve your sleep, feel more refreshed during the day, fight off depression, and more.

As time passes we’re seeing more and more research trials that show how light therapy can help improve the quality of life for those with depression and sleep disorders. In one meta-analysis done in 2016, it was found that light therapy is effective to help with even the most general sleep problems.

Which Sleep Disorders Can I Use It With?

There are several types of sleep disorders that you can use light therapy with. As previously mentioned, it is great with any circadian rhythm related sleep disorders, such as insomnia. Sleep onset insomnia, in particular, is a good subset to use this light therapy with. In this type, people struggle to fall asleep but don’t have trouble staying asleep once they get there.

Another type of sleep disorder that you can use light therapy with is advanced sleep phase disorder. This is when you feel sleepy when it is late afternoon or early in the evening. You may have a bedtime that is drastically early due to this, and because you go to sleep so early you typically wake up very early in the morning (or at least earlier than desired). Having light therapy in the early hours of the evening can help to reset this pattern.

Another type of disorder is called delayed sleep phase. This is a type of insomnia where you stay awake very late in the evening, even if you try to go to bed at a decent hour. Because you get to bed so late, you will wake up much later than desired. In this case, you can try using light therapy in the morning (right after waking up), helping to advance the internal clock a bit so you can get to sleep a little earlier that night.

Overall, the above touches upon the tip of the iceberg of what you can ultimately use light therapy for when it comes to sleep disorders. A few other examples include:

  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • SAD (or seasonal affective disorder)
  • Adjusting to a new schedule such as working at night.
  • Jet lag

While light therapy may be able to help with other sleep disorders, it is often recommended to only use it on sleep disorders that are related to your circadian rhythm being abnormal and out of line.

How to Use Light Therapy for Sleep

The next thing we need to look at is exactly how to use this therapy to help improve your sleep. Depending on the type of disruption you have in your circadian rhythm, light therapy can be done either when you wake up in the morning or early in the evening when you start to feel drowsy.

While each device varies, you typically will take the light box and situate it between 16 and 24 inches from the face. While you do need the light to be able to reach your eyes, it’s important to not have it right in front of it or it can potentially cause harm. (Please keep in mind that you should never look directly at your light source).

Fortunately, you can eat, read, or do something else during your session without problems. You will need to be exposed to the light for a set amount of time (product manuals are your friend). You can also ask your doctor for recommendations based on the intensity of the light and in order to discover how to achieve the best results.

With light therapy, one of the keys to success is to maintain consistency. This light therapy has been proven to work over time, as long as you stick with it. You may not notice the changes right away, but within a few weeks, the therapy should start to make a difference and you should notice better sleep in the process. Again, we always encourage you to talk with your doctor about increasing or decreasing the time under lights if necessary.

While a great deal of research still needs to be done, light therapy is generally a safe and effective way to deal with insomnia and many other sleep disorders. By using light to get your circadian rhythm back in line, this can make it easier to fall asleep on a desired schedule and wake up at the appropriate time of day, for you!

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