Light Therapy and Better Sleep Explained

Can you believe that, like Vicks ZzzQuil, you can take red light therapy for sleeping problems? That's even without the associated side effects. Light therapy, or phototherapy, is widely used to regulate the body's internal clock to help with sleep in various ways.

More specifically, the body relies on sunlight to map out the 24-hour circadian rhythm that signals when it's time to sleep, wake up, eat, and do a hundred other things. When this rhythm is interrupted by stress, night shifts, jet lag, or illness, it might need to be "reset" or otherwise modulated to help you sleep better.

Why Sleep Matters to Your Health

Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post once gave a TED talk on how sleep deprivation can impact success in life, and science agrees. Sleep is essential to basic health, we are only just discovering how important it is. 

In broad terms, sleep affects the body's regenerative cycle that helps the body recover and recharge in readiness for the next day. It is also the time when growth occurs, which is why children below five need significantly more sleep compared to adults. 

During the N3 stage of sleep, the body starts to heal and repair itself. Foreign and damaged cells are removed, while stem cells multiply and replenish the various organs and systems. The brain takes this time to store memories, rehash the day's events, and recharge on creativity.

Today, we know that sleep is not a luxury but a necessity. Combined with other risk factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, bad sleep cycles can be fatal. That's why depriving your body of sleep can lead to health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. 

Health Effects of Poor Sleep

Ideally, adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep each night to maintain proper cognitive and behavioral functions. Without it, you will have reduced reaction times, mood shifts, and attention lapses. This is why driving under sleep deprivation is actually as bad as drunk driving. 

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation has the potential to become chronic. This is because the body can acquire tolerance to sleep deprivation, but at the cost of your physical and mental health.

  • Mayo Clinic links sleep deprivation to hypertension in both children and adults. It can throw the body's hormonal balance off and cause increased blood pressure. It also causes less tolerance to stress, which is a known cause factor of hypertension
  • Weight gain/obesity — When sleep deprivation becomes a habit, the chances of obesity increase greatly. This is closely linked to poor emotional health, compulsive eating habits, and increased stress which compounds the problem
  • Diabetes — The body requires deep sleep cycles to process insulin and regulate blood sugar. As a result, extended periods of sleep deprivation are a major factor in the development of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Reproductive health — sleep deprivation is a well-known cause of low libido in men, but it has more far-reaching effects. In both men and women, it causes reduced fertility by impacting reproductive hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, which can make conception much more difficult
  • Decreased immune functions — your body's immune functions such as antibody response and adaptive immunity rely on deep sleep to work properly. Without it, your immunity is compromised and makes you more susceptible to bacterial and viral attacks
  • Mental and psychiatric health — Many mental and psychological problems have been linked directly to poor sleeping habits. These include stress, depression, anxiety, memory loss, and lack of focus. At the extreme end, sleep deprivation can even lead to paranoia and hallucinations before the body forces a shutdown.

Light and Sleep

Back before industrialization, humanity had quite a simple sleep/wake pattern. Daylight was waking time, while the 12 hours or more of nighttime were mainly left to sleeping and resting. Electricity and artificial lighting disrupted all that, causing many problems with light and sleep.

As already mentioned, the body relies on light to map out the body's internal 24-hour cycle. This is the circadian rhythm, which was originally regulated by exposure to strong sunlight. Originally, this cycle is closely synchronized to the sunlight and sunset cycles. 

This regular sleep/wake cycle may not be practical in today's society, though. Exposure to strong light at night disrupts the sleep cycle by pushing the sleep cycle backward. In turn, this disrupts the body's internal self-regulation mechanisms which rely on the circadian rhythm.

You probably already know that sleep is mainly controlled by two hormones called melatonin and serotonin. When it is dark, the pineal gland in the middle of the brain excretes melatonin, which increases drowsiness and facilitates sleep.

During actual sleep, the average human experiences 4-6 cycles of deep sleep lasting 70-120 minutes each. Exposure to light during this time throws off these cycles, which affects the quality of sleep. 

Red Light Therapy and Sleep Improvement: The Science

Bright light therapy has long been used to help "reset" the body's circadian cycle by exposing the person concerned to busts of bright light. A source of artificial light is used to mimic sunlight and slowly modulate the internal clock as close to the original sunrise/sunset cycle as possible.

Red light therapy does a better job of regulating sleep cycles because it is milder and more relaxing. When used before bed, the soft glow of red light lamps can improve the quality of sleep significantly. 

A Chinese study on the subject involved irradiating twenty army athletes for 30 minutes with red-light every night for 14 days. After the trial, those who were exposed to red light therapy had improved sleep levels, endurance, and performance.

More importantly, another study showed that red light therapy significantly reduces sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the lack of alertness and focus right after waking up. This grogginess can impact short-term memory, response times, and the ability to resist sleep.

Red light therapy tried on a small sample of 30 men and women showed promising results. Those exposed to the light showed significantly shorter periods of sleep inertia and were sharper after waking.

Red Light Therapy at Home for Better Sleep

Red light therapy is a natural, highly effective way of dealing with sleep disturbances. If you are suffering from insomnia, jet lag, drowsiness during the day, or work night shifts, this treatment is for you. 

It is clear that getting back your sleep is deeply connected with your body's health functions including immunity, brain health, and heart health. You can now buy red light devices for use at home here at Red Light Therapy.

We have medical-grade red light devices emitting both red light and near-infrared light to help restore your body's internal functions to their natural state. Explore our collection of red light devices for home use now and get back your life on your own terms. Also feel free to contact us.