Light Therapy for Better Sleep

Using Light Therapy Products

Light is able to synchronise the body clock to the 24 hour day and reset the timing of the body clock to adapt to being on a new light/dark (wake/sleep) cycle, for example after flying to a new time zone. These effects of light can be very beneficial to sleep patterns. The resetting effect of light depends on the time of day that it is administered and so, if you are travelling to a new time zone you can calculate the most effective time of day to use your light box based on your sleep schedule at home and your destination time zone. Light at the correct time will hasten your body's adaptation to local time whereas light at the wrong time can actually push your body clock in the wrong direction and prolong jet lag. Fortunately, you can use light therapy so that you sleep and wake up at the appropriate times and feel refreshed. The first light of each day sets the schedule for your natural sleep-wake cycle. By gradually maximizing your exposure to light in the morning and curtailing your exposure to bright light in the evening you can feel more rested. To do so, follow this simple advice:

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In the morning — Try to get at least 30 minutes of exposure to bright light during the day, especially first thing in the morning. If you cannot get out in bright sunlight, your light therapy device can help. Energy lights imitate natural daylight but are UV-free. You can boost your mood and energy as well as fight winter blues by replenishing the light you may be missing. Bright light will help you to be alert during the day and also cue your body to feel sleepy at the right time of night.

In the evening — Dim the lights. The dim light will tell your body that bedtime is approaching. When you go to sleep, make sure you’re in a dark room that will stay dark until you get enough sleep.


Timing is Key

The timing of your light exposure is critical. If it is timed too late you may fall asleep too late and wake up later each morning. If morning light is timed too early, you may fall asleep too early and find yourself waking up too early each day. Be sure to read the instructions on your light therapy product to assure safe, appropriate use and maximum effect.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

If you wake up unrefreshed or feel sleepy during the day, you’re not getting adequate sleep at night.

Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to function at their best the next day. Children and adolescents need 9 hours or more. Although older people often have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, the elderly need just as much sleep as younger adults.

It’s not just the amount of sleep you get that matters. Have you ever clocked 8 or 9 hours in bed, but felt like you had only half that amount of sleep? That could be because physical discomfort, trips to the bathroom, noises, or other factors prevented you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep.

Develop Good Sleep Habits

In addition to using light to manage your natural sleep schedule, here are some practical tips for developing good sleep habits:

 

  • Treat your bedroom as your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. Use your bedroom for sleep only so you positively associate it with sleeping.

  • Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.

  • Avoid late naps. Naps late in the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you must nap, keep it to under an hour, and take it before 3:00 pm.

  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment that is cool, dark, quiet and free of distractions. Provide yourself with a comfortable bed and pillow and keep the temperature in your bedroom cooler at night than during the day.

  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Allow enough time to wind down and relax before going to bed, and avoid activities that might excite you.

  • Keep a “worry book” next to your bed. If you wake up because of worries, write them down, and forget about them until morning.

  • Avoid exposure to bright light in the night. Put night lights in your halls and bathroom. If you regularly get thirsty during the night, keep a glass of water by your bed to avoid getting up.

  • Exercise. Exercise helps you fall asleep, but avoid vigorous or competitive exercise close to bedtime.

  • Be aware of over-the-counter and prescription medications that disrupt sleep. If you suspect your medications may be interfering with your sleep, talk to your doctor.

  • Avoid alcoholic beverages just before bedtime. Alcohol may make you sleepy, but it can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.

  • Avoid using tobacco or caffeinated products at night or even late in the afternoon. Caffeine and nicotine’s effects can last 8 hours or more.

  • Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime. A large meal too close to bedtime can cause indigestion, which can make it hard to fall and stay asleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate, which can prevent you from sleeping deeply or long enough.

 



Light therapy for better sleep

1. I struggle to get to sleep

Difficulties in falling asleep at the time you want could indicate that your body clock is set at a later time than desired for your schedule. You could use morning light to help reset and maintain your clock at an earlier time. Sitting in front of a bright light box upon awakening, for example while having breakfast, will push your body clock earlier in time and make it easier to fall asleep. A dawn simulator like Bodyclock, with a gradually increasing light signal during the last 30 min of sleep, could also be beneficial in resetting your clock and waking you up.

2. I oversleep in the morning

Oversleeping in the morning could again indicate that your body clock is set at a later time than desired or that you experience extreme sleep inertia upon awakening which makes it difficult to get up. Utilising a Bodyclock, where light steadily increases to a maximum during the last 30 min of sleep, could help to reduce the symptoms of sleep inertia and gradually wake you up as well as acting on your body clock.

3. I have no problem getting to sleep but have interrupted sleep/wake up much too early

Waking up too early could suggest that your body clock is set an earlier time than is suitable for your schedule. It is possible to push your body clock later in time by using a bright light box for 30 min in the early evening finishing at least 1 hour before you want to go to bed.

4. I sleep well, but my job demands I wake earlier than I naturally would

If you need to wake up earlier than usual then you can use a bright light box in the morning for at least 30 min upon awakening to shift your body clock to an earlier time. Alternatively, you could use one of the Bodyclock wake-up lights, where light gradually increases to a maximum during the last 30 min of sleep, to reduce sleep inertia (grogginess and inability to perform tasks upon awakening), which would be exacerbated by waking too early, and shift your body clock.

5. I fall asleep at different times of the day, I can't establish a regular sleep pattern

An unstable sleep pattern could indicate either that your body clock is receiving weak light signals from the environment (e.g. during winter months) and is therefore not stably co-ordinated with local time or that your body clock is only providing weak signals to your body so sleep is not consistent. Using a bright light box in the morning upon awakening and again in the early evening will provide strong dawn and dusk cues to your body clock which will help to fix it appropriately to local time. In addition, using a bright light box during the daytime at work will provide further cues to your clock to distinguish day from night and increase the strength of the signals from your clock to the body, hopefully stabilising sleep.

6. I work shifts

Fully adapting to a rapidly changing shift schedule (e.g. 2 early mornings, 2 late afternoons/evenings and 2 nights) is not possible due to the fact that your body clock does not instantly reset to a new light/dark cycle. In such situations sleep may be very disrupted or shortened due to having to get up earlier than usual or due to not being able to sleep for long during the daytime following a night shift as the clock is not adapted. Thus, if your work pattern is rapidly changing it may be beneficial to use a bright light box upon awakening or a Bodyclock, regardless of the current shift, to boost alertness levels and minimise sleep inertia upon awakening. If the shift schedule changes more slowly then it may be possible to use light to adapt to each shifted sleep pattern. To adapt to working early shifts you would need morning bright light; to shift yourself to working late evening shifts you would use evening light to push your body clock later. The timing of the light and the sleep schedule could be pushed later in time again to help you adapt to working overnight.

In addition, when working night shifts it may be difficult to remain alert and perform well during the night, particularly towards the end of the shift (4-6am), which could have consequences for safety and efficiency. If it is possible to use a bright light box while at work, e.g. next to a computer, in lounges during coffee breaks, this could help to maintain alertness and also help to push the body clock later in time and adapt to sleeping during the daytime. However, bright light boxes during any work shift will help to boost alertness and performance which will always be beneficial. It should be noted that bright light exposures do not need to be continuous to have a positive effect. Frequent short bursts of light can be very beneficial for maintaining alertness and performance, and also for shifting the clock.

Difficulties in falling asleep at the time you want could indicate that your body clock is set at a later time than desired for your schedule. You could use morning light to help reset and maintain your clock at an earlier time. Sitting in front of a bright light box upon awakening, for example while having breakfast, will push your body clock earlier in time and make it easier to fall asleep. One of our Bodyclock dawn simulators, with a gradually increasing light signal during the last 30 min of sleep, could also be beneficial in resetting your clock and waking you up.

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