Red Light Therapy & Sleep Quality
Lack of sleep is a villain in America and Europe. Light intake is a big part of the problem. Over 65% of adults say they don’t get enough good sleep every week. Most people also don’t get nearly enough natural light for optimal health: the average American spends over 90% of their time indoors.
In addition to not getting enough natural light, people today are surrounded by artificial blue light from screens and overhead lighting. An overload of artificial blue light can cause headaches and make it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep. When we take in all that bright blue light from laptops, TVs, and phones, especially before we go to bed, our bodies get the signal that it's time to be awake, even if we're tired.
Melatonin is the naturally-occurring hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Emerging research is showing that red light therapy treatments can help people produce more of their own, natural melatonin than exposure to other light sources like blue light. Red light therapy is natural light. It’s much less bright than blue light, with a lower color temperature than daytime sun, as the image above shows. Research has shown that red light doesn’t upset your sleep cycle like bright blue light. Red light therapy is showing great clinical results for people with insomnia and sleep disorders.
The light therapy is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers concentrated natural light to your skin and cells. Clinical research is showing that red light therapy can improve sleep quality and duration, and help people produce more of their own melatonin.
Light plays a major role in your sleep cycle. The body’s circadian clock interprets light as a sign of when to sleep and when to be awake. Artificial blue light from phones, computers, and other screens is extremely bright and can knock your circadian rhythm out of whack. Red light has the opposite effect: it’s ideal for evenings because it has a low color temperature—far lower than blue light and much closer to the natural sunset.
Red light therapy treatments are quick and simple: you just sit or stand in natural light for 5 to 15 minutes, ideally every day. This stimulates your mitochondria and gives your cells the natural light they need to make energy.
How Does Red Light Therapy Help You Sleep?
Natural light is a key ingredient for a healthy circadian rhythm and restful sleep. If you struggle to sleep, your light intake could be a big factor. Red light therapy delivers natural light like you’d get from the sun, but without UV rays, excess heat, or the need for sunny weather.
Red light therapy treatments supercharge your cells with the natural light they need to make more core ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy. This helps your body run more efficiently, heal faster, and has shown great results for producing more natural melatonin and improving sleep disorders like insomnia.
Red light therapy treatments have shown great sleep results in a range of peer-reviewed clinical studies. One study on the sleep of pro basketball players showed that a 2-week course of red light therapy in the evening improved players’ sleep quality in the short term. Based on the results, the researchers suggested red light therapy would be a good non-invasive, drug-free solution to sleep struggles.
Overcoming Sleep Disorders with Red Light Therapy
Recent research on sleep disorders among people with migraine headaches has shown that red light therapy both decreased headache frequency, and was the only treatment that improved patients’ sleep disorders.
A 2014 study on cognitive function and traumatic brain injury (TBI) recorded that participants had significantly decreased episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and improved sleep.
Analyzing patients’ electrical brain activity, a 2013 sleep study concluded that red light therapy was especially effective at helping people with sleep disorders fall asleep.
When I’m indoors training under the buzz of artificial lights, my body doesn’t get the natural light it needs. Add computers, cell phones, televisions, etc. and it’s easy to overload yourself with blue light. I used to have trouble sleeping after long training days, but since adding more natural light to my routine with red light therapy, I’ve been falling asleep as soon as I lie down, and I’ve been staying asleep all night.*
Gold-Medal Winning Dutch Gymnast
Red Light Therapy, Sleep, Depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Research is showing how closely mood and sleep disorders are interconnected. Parts of the brain that regulate sleep have also been found to closely affect mood. A 2013 review concluded that “nearly all people suffering from mood disorders have significant disruptions in circadian rhythms and the sleep/wake cycle.”
Trouble sleeping is one of the most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression most common in the darker winter months. Some physicians treating patients with mental health disorders have said red light therapy both improves mood, and helps people with depression get better sleep.
Sources and References:
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The State of Sleep Health in America.
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Gooley, J., Chamberlain, K., Smith, K., Khalsa, S., et al. “Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Mar.
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Zhao J., Tian Y., Nie J., Xu J., Liu D. “Red light and the sleep quality and endurance performance of Chinese female basketball players” Journal of Athletic Training. 2012, November-December.
Loeb LM, Amorim RP, et al. “Botulinum toxin A (BT-A) versus low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in chronic migraine treatment: a comparison.” Arquivos de neuro-psiquiatria. 2018 Oct;76(10):663-667.
Naeser MA, Zafonte R, et al. “Significant improvements in cognitive performance post-transcranial, red/near-infrared light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, mild traumatic brain injury: open-protocol study.” Journal of Neurotrauma. 2014 Jun 1;31(11):1008-17.
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