Did you know that light is the most important external factor that affects sleep? Although you may intuitively know it's easier to fall asleep in the dark than with the light on or the sun out, the connection between light and sleep is much more profound.
If you suffer from insomnia or sleep issues, stick around to learn how you can use light therapy to your advantage. This method of therapy can make a big difference as a sleep aid, because light plays a significant role in regulating the circadian rhythm and fostering a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
What is the Circadian Rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm, also known as your body's internal clock, helps control your daily schedule for waking up and falling asleep. It can be influenced by a variety of factors, including light and darkness. Because of this, your body receives signals from your environment that trigger the brain to alter your body temperature, activate certain hormones, and regulate your metabolism.
All these activities either draw you to sleep or keep you alert. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, either due to external factors or sleep disorders, you may experience insomnia.
Insomnia Light Therapy
Light affects your circadian rhythm and affects the production of melatonin, which is a critical sleep-promoting hormone. Therefore, how long you're exposed to daylight and other types of light impacts your sleep. Just because you can't always control your surroundings and your exposure to light doesn't mean your sleep should suffer. This is where light therapy comes in.
Light therapy is a type of therapy focused on treating specific health conditions, like insomnia, through exposure to artificial light. During a light therapy session, you sit in front of a light therapy box. This specialized device emits a bright light that's similar to natural sunlight.
Bright light therapy, circadian light therapy, phototherapy, and light exposure therapy are synonyms of light therapy. Light therapy is especially great for people with insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, jet lag, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or other types of depression.
How Does Insomnia Light Therapy Work?
Insomnia light therapy is very straightforward. All you need to do is set up a light box and sit in front of it for a specific timeframe each day. Although many light therapy boxes do not emit any harmful UV rays, you shouldn't let the light shine directly into your eyes.
People with sleep problems usually use this therapy for sleep disorders for approximately 20-40 minutes per session. Although longer sessions may prove beneficial for you, this amount of time should do the trick. You can go up to 60 minutes if it doesn't have any effect, but anything longer than that is unnecessary. During the session, you should also place the light therapy box 16-24 inches from your face for the duration.
This session typically works for lightboxes with a light intensity of 10,000 LUX. However, for lower-intensity lightboxes, like ones with an intensity of 2,500 LUX, a session can last for 2 hours or more. If you use this regularly and as recommended by your doctor as part of your sleep disorder treatment, you should be happy with the results. Exposure to the light from the light box can help you reset your circadian rhythm, and you should find it easier to fall asleep at night.
During a light therapy session, the light from the light therapy box stimulates your retina cells, which causes the release of chemicals in your brain. These chemicals, serotonin and melatonin, are responsible for synchronizing your sleep-wake cycle. Therefore, the perception of light delays melatonin production, helping you shake off sleep and lift your mood.
What Time Should You Do the Light Therapy Treatment?
Your doctor, sleep specialist, or specialist in circadian rhythms will develop a treatment plan that works best for you. Because light is the most powerful cue for training your circadian rhythm, following the doctor's instructions should help your sleep phase disorder, circadian rhythm disorder, or circadian rhythm sleep disorder.
The light therapy for sleep plan will indicate the time of day you should use the light box and for how long. Nonetheless, you'll find that light therapy is most effective when done in the morning daily.
If you have sleep phase disorders, such as delayed sleep phase syndrome, light therapy in the morning may be great for you. This is when your internal body clock functions behind a normal circadian rhythm, so you find yourself naturally feeling sleepy or waking up at later times than what is typical. Light therapy is also suitable for advanced sleep phase syndrome.
What Can Light Therapy Help With?
If you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or have a low-quality sleeping experience, insomnia light therapy is for you. Having a good sleep schedule is essential and can improve your life in many ways.
Some mood disorders are influenced by sleep, and therefore, having a good night's sleep is vital. Chronic insomnia occurs when you experience little-to-no sleep for an extended period of time, from a couple of weeks to months. When this happens, you should contact sleep specialists to find out what's wrong. A circadian rhythm disruption can have many causes, and an effective light therapy experience can help.
2. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
An underlying circadian rhythm sleep disorder can cause insomnia. This condition can occur naturally or can be caused by having overnight work schedules. Light therapy is one of the primary treatments for this condition. If you're an extreme night owl, you may have this condition naturally.
3. Jet Lag
Jet lag is technically a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. It happens when you travel across time zones but your circadian rhythm stays synchronized to your old location. Spending time outside and getting sunlight exposure can be a great way to treat jet lag, as it helps your biological clock realign to the sun.
That's it for Now
Hopefully, this article has given you insight into how insomnia light therapy can be beneficial. If you've tried bright light treatment, don't hesitate to share your experience, and if you think it may be right for you, it's always a smart idea to consult your doctor first.
1. Human responses to bright light of different durations: https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1113/jphysiol.2011.226555
2. Sleep Disorders in the Older Adult – A Mini-Review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842167/
3. Everything to Know About Your Circadian Rhythm: https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/circadian-rhythm
4. What is the optimal implementation of bright light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15645001/
5. Light visor treatment for jet lag after westward travel across six time zones: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12398256/