Sleep issues like insomnia affect millions of adults. Poor sleep takes a tremendous toll on your physical and mental health. While sleep medications can help, they often have side effects. This has sparked interest in natural sleep aids like red light therapy. But can a few minutes of red light exposure before bedtime really improve your sleep? Let’s analyze the science.
Sleep allows time for your body and brain to recover and rejuvenate. Without adequate sleep, hormone levels become imbalanced. Immunity decreases. Mental functioning and emotional health suffer.
Lack of sleep also inhibits tissue repair processes and is linked to weight gain and diabetes risk. Here are some of the proven benefits of high-quality sleep:
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But about 30% regularly fall short of this recommendation. Disrupted sleep can be caused by many factors including stress, blue light exposure, anxiety, lack of exercise, and underlying health conditions.
Non-pharmaceutical sleep aids like red light therapy are becoming increasingly popular. But what does the research say about using red light to improve sleep?
While research is still emerging, initial studies indicate red light therapy may positively influence sleep in multiple ways:
Through these mechanisms, red light therapy appears promising for treating certain sleep disorders. But what does the clinical research on red light and sleep show?
While more large-scale studies are needed, initial research indicates red light therapy may improve sleep in those with disrupted sleep.
For example, a 2017 study tested red light therapy in elite female athletes suffering from poor sleep. Just 14 days of red light treatment increased their total sleep time by nearly 20 minutes on average.
A small study on patients with chronic traumatic brain injuries found red light applied before bedtime reduced the time needed to fall asleep.
Researchers in this study concluded red light therapy is an “efficient and convenient intervention to elicit short-term sleep improvement” in those with mild sleep problems.
Overall the results are promising. While not a magic bullet to cure all sleep disorders, red light therapy may improve sleep metrics in those struggling with disrupted or inadequate sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping through the night, here are some tips for using red light therapy:
Morning red light – Exposure first thing in the morning can help regulate your circadian rhythm and promote alertness during the day. Use a bright red/near-infrared light panel for 10-20 minutes.
Daytime red light – Getting additional red light exposure during the day may compound benefits to your mood, inflammation levels, and sleep cycle regulation.
Evening red light – To boost melatonin production, use a red light device emitting around 600-660nm wavelengths for 10-30 minutes in the 1-2 hours before bedtime. Avoid blue light from phones/TV during this time.
Full-body red light – Consider brief full-body red light therapy a few times per week. Getting broad exposure may confer additional anti-inflammatory and relaxation benefits to enhance sleep.
Red light pillow or sleep mask – Specialty red light sleep devices are available delivering light in close proximity to your face and eyes while sleeping. Research their safety before extended use.
Be patient. It may take 2-4 weeks of consistent use to see substantial changes in sleep quality from red light therapy. Track your sleep with an app or journal to compare. Follow proper sleep hygiene habits as well.
While more research is warranted, red light therapy appears promising as an adjunct treatment for sleep struggles stemming from jet lag, work shifts, anxiety, pain, or unknown causes.
It is not a magic fix for all sleep disorders. But red light therapy does have an excellent safety profile with minimal risks or side effects. It may help restore your body’s natural circadian rhythms when used properly.
Talk to your doctor before attempting to treat diagnosed sleep conditions. Red light therapy can be an attractive addition to your overall sleep regimen alongside proper sleep hygiene, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and medications if necessary.
Be patient and committed to consistency. Sweet dreams may be closer than you think!