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Light Therapy Glasses: Can They Help Me Sleep?

Compared to conventional approaches, light therapy glasses provide a more convenient and flexible way to receive light therapy. This can help with many health conditions involving sleep and circadian rhythms, but precaution is needed with any intervention. Learn how light therapy glasses can help and what the risks are.

What is light therapy?

Light therapy, also called phototherapy, uses artificial light to address health conditions such as insomnia, depression, or jet lag.

The principle behind light therapy is straightforward. Many behaviors and physiological processes in the body follow a 24-hour cycle called circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is intertwined with our sleep-wake cycle and variations in the circadian rhythm may greatly affect our sleep.

One of the circadian rhythm disruptors is thought to be artificial light exposure. Artificial light exposure may realign the individual’s circadian rhythms impacting the sleep quality and duration.

The good news is that the light may also be used to counteract this misalignment. During a light therapy session, special cells in the retina detect the light and send signals to a region in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN regulates the synthesis of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

The perception of light suppresses the production of melatonin. As a result, the individuals feel more alert and energized.

Light therapy glasses for sleep

In the past, light therapy was delivered through light boxes or lamps. These early devices were relatively large and required the individual to sit or stay in front of them for a specific amount of time every day.

Over time, technological advancements led to the development of more portable devices, giving users more freedom to move around during treatment sessions.

Light therapy glasses are a wearable and portable form of light therapy. They typically incorporate small LED lights or other light sources that emit specific wavelengths, often on the blue or green spectrum.

These glasses are especially useful for those who may not have the time to sit in front of a traditional light box. They offer a convenient and flexible solution, since they allow individuals to engage in various activities while receiving the therapeutic benefits of light exposure.

Light therapy glasses are suggested to have similar effects to conventional light boxes. One study showed significant melatonin suppression during light stimulation with both devices.

Potential health benefits of light therapy glasses

Light therapy using light therapy glasses may help with various health issues, including insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, depression, and seasonal affective disorders.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which the person has difficulty falling or staying asleep.

A recent meta-analysis of light therapy's impact on insomnia revealed that light therapy is effective in increasing wake after sleep onset (WASO), a measure of sleep quality. However, it had no impact on sleep latency, sleep length, or sleep efficiency. The authors suggest that more studies are needed to figure out these findings.

Circadian rhythm disorders

Circadian rhythm disorders happen when our internal sleep-wake rhythms get out of sync with the natural light-dark cycle.

One example of circadian rhythm disorder is delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD). People with this condition wake up and go to bed too late. Since their internal circadian rhythms don’t match the external social demands, these individuals face many difficulties, such as a drop in performance at work or school, sleep deprivation, and mental health issues.

The treatment of DSWPD involves light therapy and implementing measures to improve sleep hygiene.

A thorough review of various studies showed that light therapy could benefit people with DSWPD. It helps them shift their sleep schedule to earlier times, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up at more desirable times. Additionally, the authors summarize that light therapy could help people suffering from DSWPD fall asleep more quickly and improve the overall quality of their sleep.

Depression

Depression and circadian rhythm disruption are closely related. People living with depression often experience a delay in melatonin release before bedtime. This can make it harder to fall asleep at conventional times.

The treatment of depression typically involves antidepressants, which can cause adverse effects and do not always achieve the expected outcomes. Light therapy has been proposed as an additional means that may benefit those suffering from depression.

A meta-analysis found that light therapy has mild to moderate effects in reducing depressive symptoms in adults. Even though the analysis is promising, the authors state that studies with large sample sizes and high quality are needed to confirm the efficiency of light therapy in treating non-seasonal depression.

Jet lag

Jet lag occurs when people travel across time zones. It causes symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disruption, difficulty concentrating, mood changes, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Jet lag results from a misalignment between the individual’s circadian rhythms and that of the external physical environment. A recent systematic review of non-medication interventions to help combat jet lag revealed that there is no substantial evidence of light therapy being beneficial for reducing jet lag.

Possible side effects

Light therapy is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, but like any intervention, it may have side effects. Some reported side effects during the use of light therapy glasses include:

  • Headache
  • Eye irritation
  • Light bothersome to eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness

These side effects are minor and usually go away on their own. If you experience any of these symptoms while using light therapy glasses, talk to a healthcare professional. Furthermore, people with eye conditions or who are taking eye medication should always consult with their ophthalmologist before using light therapy glasses.

Choosing the right light therapy glasses for you

There’s a variety of light therapy glasses available on the market, such as AYO, Re-timer, and Luminette. You should pick the one that best suits your needs.

There are a lot of things you can consider before choosing the best therapy glasses for you, for example:

  • App integration. Some glasses can be connected to an app on your smartphone, allowing you to obtain customized recommendations concerning your circadian health.
  • Session duration. The length of the light therapy session varies by manufacturer. Some recommend that you wear the glasses for 20 to 30 minutes, while others recommend sessions lasting up to 60 minutes.
  • Design. Light therapy glasses come in various styles and sizes. Some are compact and lightweight, while others are a bit larger. Certain models are positioned above the eyes for a clear view, while others frame the eyes. Some even allow you to wear reading glasses while getting the therapy.

Light therapy may be an effective option to address disruptions of sleep and circadian rhythm. Light therapy glasses provide a convenient alternative to using a light box for an extended period. They offer flexibility, allowing individuals to continue with their daily tasks while still benefiting from the therapy. Even though light therapy is considered safe, it's essential to take precautions. If you notice any unusual reactions or concerns, consult a doctor.

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