In recent months, we’ve been asked quite a bit about how red light therapy affects sleep.
We know that red light therapy treatment helps users sleep better. But some are claiming that red light therapy can disrupt sleep. So, which of these is true?
The key point here is that red light therapy does help reduce circadian rhythm disorders.
But, treatment sessions are also intended to only be around 20 minutes long, so it probably wouldn’t make much sense to use RLT while asleep, unless you plan to take a short nap.
In this article, we look into the relationship between red light therapy and sleep in greater detail.
Read on to learn more!
Why is it Important to Have Good Sleep?
Part of the old-school mentality was to work long hours, often at the expense of a good night’s sleep.
However, research today shows us that the benefits of good sleep often outweigh those of staying up late. This is for a variety of reasons.
Sleeping well improves cognitive functioning, including concentration, focus, problem-solving, learning, memory, and alertness. This helps boost productivity at work. Meanwhile, the additional alertness may also contribute to a reduced chance of getting into a car accident, for those who are driving.
Consistent sleep improves mood, decreasing the reliance on external stimulants to get started in the morning. It also has a considerable impact on heart health. Studies are now showing that every hour of sleep you lose on a regular basis can increase your risk of heart disease by 6%.
Good sleep enhances athletic performance. This includes increasing fine motor skills and faster reaction times, and more power and endurance. Sleep also gives the immune system uninterrupted time to keep your body free of viruses and bacteria.
Human growth hormone and gamma-aminobutyric acid are produced during sleep, which helps with cellular regeneration. Good sleep can help with weight loss. Leptin is produced during sleep. This is the hormone that makes people feel full, so they may be less tempted to overeat.
Getting a good night’s rest helps regulate insulin levels in the body which can prevent diabetes.
Now, given that it’s established that getting a good night’s sleep should be a big priority, let’s look into how RLT treatment may or may not affect sleep patterns.
How Does Red Light Therapy Improve Sleep?
Red light therapy promotes relaxation and stimulates the brain into producing melatonin to 'reset' the circadian rhythm.
It also has a calming effect on the nervous system. For example, watching the sunset is an incredibly soothing experience. Because of the angle of the sun, our brains perceive far more calming wavelengths at sunset than when the sun is high in the sky.
These warm wavelengths signal to your brain that it will soon be dark and that it's time to prepare the body for sleep. Melatonin production increases, and within a few hours, you start to feel naturally drowsy.
Blue wavelengths are short and energetic. Red wavelengths are long and slow. This mimics the physiological effect that different light has on the body.
Red light therapy is part of a healthy morning routine that can contribute to better sleep.
More indirectly, red light therapy is used to relieve low back pain and itching from atopic dermatitis which can help improve sleep quality.
Pain treatment is a significant factor that can contribute to better sleep as well.
“The body has a remarkable capability to absorb photon particles of red light by the complex enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase within the mitochondria of cells as well as by intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells in the eyes. Because the eyes are slightly sensitive to red light it is recommended to create a sleep sanctuary that brings in only natural light.”
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Does Clinical Research Support the Effectiveness of Red Light Therapy For Better Sleep?
Several studies show that red light therapy can help you sleep.
In 2019, researchers showed that a 3-week light therapy protocol with a combination of red and bright white light in the afternoon improved the circadian rhythms and prevented a dip in afternoon counterproductivity in 19 people in an office environment.
Another 2019 study found significant clinical evidence that light therapy resulted “in clinically meaningful improvements in some sleep parameters.”
A 2017 study also found that light therapy helped patients retain more energy during the day. There is perhaps a link between the effluence and expenditure of energy during the daytime when it's needed which leads to better sleep.
There are a multitude of studies that show a link between RLT and better sleep, adding this to the many other health and lifestyle benefits of using red light therapy regularly in the morning.
Blue Light Exposure and Sleep Patterns
Blue light from consumer electronic devices causes sleep disturbances, at least in part because people use them for hours almost every day.
However, blue light traces in a light therapy panel that accounts for around 2% of the overall intensity do not disrupt sleep.
In another article, we discuss the false controversy around blue light therapy treatment far more in-depth.
But we do have some recommendations when it comes to minimizing the impact of light emitted by laptops, phones etc.
Realistically, most people will continue using their electronics in bed, even after reading this so here are our tips for minimizing eye strain and preventing too much artificial light
- Use blue light blockers to prevent disruption of melatonin production
- Hold your device as far from your eyes as is comfortable to reduce light intensity
- Turn off your bedroom lights (all bright lights contribute to sleep disorders)
- Dim your device to its lowest light setting
- Try not to stare at your screen because not blinking often enough leads to dry eyes and inflammation which can cause vision problems
Try to stop using electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.
Reading a book is fine, as long as your LED reading light features a warm color temperature to minimize the melatonin-suppressing blue light.
Those blue wavelengths will come in handy upon waking to minimize sleep inertia.
Red Light Therapy Solutions
Aside from improving sleep, red light therapy is known to have numerous treatment benefits. Included in these are better cognition, skin rejuvenation, faster injury recovery hair regrowth, and many more.
In case there’s still any doubt at this point, we don’t recommend using RLT while sleeping! It is generally intended for morning treatment.
Curious about how else red light therapy can boost your health? The Learning Center is continually adding more information on using light therapy for skin health, joint health, muscle health, and more.
The BIOMAX red light therapy devices support health at the cellular level with a combination of one blue wavelength, two red wavelengths, and three near infrared light wavelengths. These medical-grade devices feature the highest light output intensity of any light therapy device in their power class.