In this article we’re going to look at what is bright light therapy, how it’s used and the types of insomnia it works best in.
What is bright light therapy?
You probably know that our sleeping patterns are strongly influenced by the patterns of light and dark in our environments – daylight and nighttime. These sleeping/waking patterns are called our circadian rhythms (click the link for more explanation on circadian rhythms, and see towards the bottom of the page).
And if you’ve been looking for a cure for insomnia you’ve probably already read the better sleep tips that include advice on turning off the TV, computer, phones etc some hours before going to bed. This is because the light from these devices can interrupt your waking/sleeping pattern by making the body think you should stay awake.
Bright light therapy works by regulating circadian rhythms.
It uses a special bright light box, which delivers the right type of light. This is ‘visible light’ and without the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
How is bright light therapy used?
If your sleep specialist or primary care doctor feels that this type of insomnia therapy is suitable for you, s/he will recommend using the bright light box for a set period of time each day. You can work out how best to fit it into your daily routine as it can be used while you’re using a computer, talking, reading or writing – any activity where you’re sitting for a period of time.
You won’t tan or damage your eyes as the UV rays have been removed from the visible light given out from the box.
Talk to your health care provider for advice tailored to your needs, and about how long each light box session needs to be.
Bright light therapy boxes are sold in stores and online. Check your insurance to see if it’s covered by this.
What are the downsides of bright light therapy for insomnia?
Users of this treatment have reported:
- That it doesn’t work (see below)
- Eye irritation
- Dry eyes
- Dry skin
Which types of insomnia does bright light therapy work best for?
This type of treatment is best suited for circadian rhythm sleep disorders rather than for people who just don’t sleep well.
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders include jet lag and shift work, where you get poor sleep or have trouble sleeping because you’re trying to sleep when it’s light.
Some studies on bright light therapy have shown that it works well when used with CBT for sleep. Talk to your doctor about this combination.