Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Are you constantly waking up throughout the night? If so, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can be incredibly frustrating and can have a negative impact on your quality of life. Luckily, there are treatments available and actions you can take that can help you improve your symptoms, allowing you to get the rest you need.
The following guide covers the importance of rest and what can happen to us if we don’t get enough of it. It also explains how exposure to simulated sunlight can reset our internal rhythms and make it easier to fall asleep.
So, without further delay, let’s get started on the road to better shut-eye.
TREATING INSOMNIA AND OTHER SLEEP DISORDERS WITH LIGHT THERAPY
Civilization has made life much easier for human beings, but all of the conveniences we enjoy typically come with a price attached. Our minds and bodies function best when we are in tune with our surroundings, but modern life detaches us from nature.
We live in homes illuminated by artificial light and spend hours each day staring at electronic screens. We also face daily problems that our ancient ancestors did not have to worry about. For instance, we eat at irregular hours and are constantly in motion. All of this and more disrupts the internal rhythms that keep our bodies in sync.
To be at our best, we need about eight hours of quality sleep each night. Unfortunately, many of us rarely get this much rest. Relatedly, about 70 million Americans suffer from diagnosed sleep disorders, and tens of millions more have trouble falling asleep at night. Inadequate rest leaves us feeling sluggish and fatigued the next day, and long-term sleep deprivation can deplete our natural resources and leave us more vulnerable to deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart problems.
People who suffer from severe insomnia often take prescription or over-the-counter drugs to get to sleep at night, but as their labels and our physicians tell us, they should only be used short-term. Meanwhile, there is a safe, natural and effective alternative to powerful pharmaceuticals: infrared light therapy.
WHAT IS LIGHT THERAPY?
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy or bright light therapy, replicates natural sunlight to reset the body’s circadian rhythm. This is a natural internal process that controls the physical, mental and behavioral changes that we experience during a 24-hour period. It is regulated by exposure to the light and dark. Animals, plants, and even microbes have circadian rhythms that are governed by the rotation of the earth, and they cannot thrive if these rhythms are interrupted.
The circadian rhythm in human beings is controlled by sensors in the eye. Cells in the retina, which is the layer of tissue at the back of the eye, detect light and dark to reset the body’s internal clock, but these cells only respond to natural light.
When we do not spend enough time outside exposed to the sun, our eyes do not get enough natural light to regulate the sleep-wake cycle properly. This is why many people suffer from bouts of depression during the winter months when days are short and nights are long.
Light therapy devices reset the circadian rhythm by replicating natural sunlight. These special insomnia light therapy devices usually emit about 10,000 lux of full-spectrum white light, which is bright enough to produce the desired effect but not bright enough to damage the eyes. About 20-30 minutes of insomnia light therapy each day is usually enough to reset the circadian rhythm and restore the optimal wake-sleep cycle.
INSOMNIA AND OTHER SLEEP DISORDERS
When a person’s circadian rhythm is not functioning properly, the impact on their health can be severe. Insomnia is the most commonly reported sleep disorder, but there are many others. Sleep deprivation clouds our thinking and slows down our reflexes, which can lead to mistakes and accidents. As mentioned before, not getting enough rest also compromises the body and makes us more susceptible to health issues.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common sleep disorders and the toll they can take:
- Insomnia: People suffer from insomnia when they have trouble falling asleep or wake up frequently during the night. Doctors used to think that insomnia was caused by stress and anxiety, but even people without a care in the world can toss and turn for hours each night if they are not exposed to enough natural light.
- Jet lag: The human body is tuned to the rotation of the earth, and its internal rhythms are disrupted when we travel to places where the sun rises and sets at different times. This was not a problem when people traveled by ship and their bodies had a chance to adjust during journeys that could take weeks. But we now fly on aircraft that can pass through time zones in just a few hours.
- Seasonal affective disorder: People who live far from the equator often suffer from depression during the fall and winter because they do not spend enough time exposed to sunlight. In some cases, people who suffer from SAD can feel tired and sluggish even after sleeping for eight or more hours. Antidepressants and sedatives are often prescribed to treat SAD, but light therapy can be even more effective without any nasty side effects.
RULE OUT THE USUAL SUSPECTS
There are many factors that can trigger sleep and mood disorders. Therefore, work with your doctor or dietician to rule out any potential medical causes or stimulants like caffeine before solely turning to light therapy.
Here are a few of the main culprits that can make sleep and mood disorders worse:
- Poor nutrition: A diet that is lacking in certain vitamins and minerals can lead to fatigue. And almost nothing is worse than being exhausted and staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. and being unable to sleep and recuperate needed energy.
- Depression and other health problems: Severe depression is not the same as SAD, and one of the symptoms of major depression can be insomnia.
- Caffeine intake: Too much caffeine can cause insomnia, anxiety and irritability.
- Alcohol: Although many believe a glass of wine or beer before bedtime can help you get to sleep easier, that’s often not the case. Instead, alcohol, especially when you drink a lot of it at night, causes poor sleep quality. Similarly, imbibing before bed can lead to the worsening of sleep apnea, which, in turn, can lead to issues like hypertension.
- Stress: Stress and anxiety can lead to insomnia, but they can also be caused by sleep deprivation. It can be a vicious cycle!
- Lack of exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to fatigue and low energy levels. Exercise can actually help you sleep better by relieving stress and promoting relaxation.
- Medications: Some medications, such as those for colds, allergies and high blood pressure, can cause anxiety, insomnia and other sleep disorders. If you think your medication might be to blame, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or switching to a different drug.
As you can see, there are many potential causes of sleep and mood disorders. Once you have ruled out the usual suspects, it’s time to look at light therapy teamed with medical advice and therapy as a possible solution. For example, studies on breast cancer patients have shown that the success rate goes up when light therapy is combined with other treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).
HOW CAN LIGHT THERAPY HELP MY INSOMNIA?
When retina sensors detect light and dark, they trigger the release of melatonin and serotonin to regulate the sleep cycle, improve mood and regulate metabolic functions like digestion, blood clotting and wound healing. Darkness prompts the release of melatonin by the pineal gland, which is a hormone that makes us feel tired and manages the wake-sleep cycle.
This effect happened in ancient times when the sun went down. However, we have now conquered darkness and live in environments illuminated by artificial light. When our eyes are exposed to natural or simulated sunlight, our bodies produce serotonin. This chemical has been called the “happiness hormone” because it promotes a healthy outlook and helps us to cope with stress.
When our bodies do not produce enough melatonin, we find it difficult to fall and stay asleep. When we don’t have enough serotonin, we feel sluggish and unhappy. About 30 minutes of light therapy provides the retina with enough stimulation to trigger the release of additional serotonin, which lifts our spirits and bolsters our natural defenses against disease and infection. Light therapy for sleep disorders also resets the circadian rhythm, which promotes the release of melatonin later in the day.
OTHER WAYS TO FIGHT INSOMNIA
Many find that combining bright light therapy with yoga, mindfulness, exercise and outdoor activities not only cures insomnia but also helps improve their overall health and well-being.
If you’re not used to exercising, start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend working out. The important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Taking a brisk walk in the park, going for a swim or biking are all great exercises to help improve your sleep.
And finally, don’t forget the power of relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing and aromatherapy to help you wind down at the end of the day. Light therapy can be used in conjunction with these activities to promote better sleep and improved mood.
If you have ruled out the usual suspects, give light therapy a try. It is a safe and effective treatment for insomnia and other sleep disorders, and it can greatly improve your quality of life.
CAN I DO LIGHT THERAPY AT HOME?
Yes! Light therapy is a safe and effective treatment for sleep disorders that can be done at home. No prescription is needed to purchase a light therapy device, and there are no side effects to worry about. Many people assume that light therapy involves staring directly into a light source, but that is not the case.
In fact, simply turning a light therapy device on floods the surrounding area with simulated sunlight and provides the eyes with all the stimulation they need. Just place the device on a table or countertop, and you will be able to receive light therapy while you eat breakfast, check your emails, read a newspaper or go through your morning bathroom routine.
Bright light to help you sleep is only effective if it is done consistently, so you should make it part of your daily routine. Most people use light therapy devices in the morning because they promote alertness and prepare us for the day ahead. On the other hand, using one of these lamps at night may be more beneficial for people who suffer from phase-delayed sleep disorders like jet lag.
These are sleep problems people develop when their internal clocks are thrown out of sync by long-distance travel or staying up late. Light therapy can also help people who work irregular shifts to adjust their body clocks. These individuals should use light therapy devices in the afternoon or early evening.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A LIGHT THERAPY DEVICE
When shopping for a light therapy device, look for one that emits at least 1000 lux of bright white light; that’s the maximum bright light level that’s needed for relief. Also, try to find one that offers 360° of bright light coverage area.
The device should also be large enough to cover your entire field of vision without being so big that it is cumbersome to use. You can also find some with built-in timers so you can set them to turn off automatically after a certain amount of time.
Having an attractive and unique design never hurts, either. That way, you can leave it out for easy access and use it as a home décor piece.
In addition, if you have a health savings account (HSA), they make light therapy devices that are HSA-approved. That means you can use your account to buy the device. Finally, make sure the device is backed by a money-back satisfaction guarantee in case it does not work for you.
GIFT YOURSELF WITH HARMONY AND BALANCE
Like all living creatures, human beings are happiest and most productive when they are well-rested and refreshed. Modern life has myriad benefits, but it can rob us of the natural stimulation that our bodies need.
Light therapy promotes health and restores harmony and balance, and it can make falling asleep at night much easier. Bright Health has more than three decades of health and wellness experience, and our light therapy lamps are some of the most affordable and effective devices on the market.
GET THE BEST SLEEP DISORDERS TREATMENT DEVICE TODAY
If you have any questions about using light therapy to treat insomnia or sleep disorders or have any other questions, please reach out to our customer service team through our online form. We will be more than happy to help you choose your device and provide additional tips on how to get the most out of your treatments. Alternatively, you can call us at (800) 526-8051, and we can answer your question about how light therapy works over the phone.