Also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, light therapy is one of the treatments used to treat many sleep disorders and mood disorders affecting sleep, including insomnia, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. It only requires having a special kind of lightbox at home and sun exposure at certain times of the day.
What is Light Therapy?
The intentional use of either sunlight or simulated sunlight for relieving symptoms is the main characteristic of light therapy. The lightbox used for this therapy puts out 10,000 lux which is dimmer than the sun but bright enough to help treat insomnia and other disorders.
A patient should sit at a specific distance from the actual box, spend a determined period of time, and at a specific day time. All you need to do is get yourself a lightbox and ask your doctor to set how far you should be from the lightbox, the time you need to use it, and what time of the day is most suitable based on your condition.
According to the American Thoracic Society, you should follow these simple recommendations when using light therapy at home:
- Place the lightbox in a position so that the light hits your eyes about equally.
- Turn the other lights on in the room.
- Avoid staring straight at the lightbox.
- Instead, try to face generally toward it.
- For optimal effects, avoid napping after light therapy.
But, how can light therapy help relieve symptoms? It actually works on resetting the circadian rhythm which is in sync with light and dark cycles of the environment in patients without disorders.
However, in those who suffer from insomnia or circadian rhythm sleep disorder, these cycles aren’t in sync. And, one of the functions of circadian rhythm is sleep-wake cycle regulation.
Light Therapy for Insomnia
The truth is, one of the most common sleep disorders people suffer from is insomnia. It is characterized by having trouble falling and staying asleep, or having good quality sleep. As a result, insomnia patients are feeling tired in the morning and have difficulties performing even simple tasks. In the long run, sleep deprivation will negatively affect both the physical and mental health of the person suffering from insomnia.
Luckily, many studies have proven that light therapy can be very beneficial for insomnia patients, as well as for treating insomnia related to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias(ADRD). Another research showed that these people experience an improvement in nighttime sleep, daytime alertness, and behavioral issues related to the disorder.
But, until now, there hasn’t been any specific research dealing with light therapy and different insomnia types like chronic insomnia or short-term insomnia. Plus, insomnia patients shouldn’t be considered light therapy a replacement for their other treatments, but as an addition that can help them improve symptoms.
Light Therapy Safety Considerations
In general, light therapy is completely safe and doesn’t require professional medical supervision. However, it can cause mild side effects that disappear if light therapy is used continuously. Some of the side effects include headaches, dizziness, eye irritation, nausea, and anxiety.
The Bottom Line
Sleep deprivation can lead to many physical and mental health issues, which is why people who suffer from insomnia should focus on getting more quality sleep. So, if your treatment doesn’t provide remarkable relief, talk to your doctor about trying light therapy.