red light therapy for sleep

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.

Why Sleep Is Critical

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:

  • Improved memory, focus and productivity
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Stabilized mood and emotions
  • Strengthened immune function
  • Optimal metabolic and hormone function
  • Increased athletic performance
  • Reduced risk of accidents and injuries
  • Greater creativity and problem-solving abilities

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?

how does red light therapy work

Red Light Therapy for Sleep: What’s the Evidence?

While research is still emerging, initial studies indicate red light therapy may positively influence sleep in multiple ways:

  • Increasing melatonin – This study found red light exposure in the evening increased melatonin levels. The boost in this sleep-promoting hormone may improve sleep onset.
  • Shifting circadian rhythms – Red light exposure can reset your body’s master clock to match natural circadian rhythms. This regulation may improve nighttime sleep quality.
  • Enhancing mood – Red light has been found to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Addressing negative moods may in turn make it easier to fall and stay asleep.
  • Accelerating recovery – Red light reduces soreness and inflammation from training and injuries. Less nighttime aching may improve sleep.
  • Increasing testosterone – Exposure to red light may mildly boost testosterone levels. Higher testosterone is linked to better sleep quality.

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?

Red Light and Sleep Disorders: What Studies Reveal

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.

how to use red light therapy for sleep

Practical Usage of Red Light for Better 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.

Red Light as Part of Your Sleep Routine

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!

red light therapy device

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