How Light Therapy Helps Me Get 7 Hours of Healthy Sleep

healthy sleep when using light therapy

Not getting enough sleep is one of the biggest impediments to productiveness. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, up to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep or wakefulness disorder. Think about those nights when you did nothing but toss and turn in bed only to find some traces of sleep at dawn when you actually need to wake up.

Then...

Think about that groggy feeling you have when the alarm clock irritatingly jars you awake. It’s difficult to feel prolific throughout the day when you have a cloudy feeling in your head. Sleep disorders can be as a result of medical conditions such as bipolar disorder, or insomnia. But, many times, your lifestyle can really impact on your sleep-wake patterns. For example, spending too much time watching TV or on the computer a few hours before bedtime can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

The circadian rhythm controls your sleep and wake patterns. Lifestyle and biological conditions can disrupt the normal functioning of the rhythm making it difficult to fall asleep, wake up on time and stay awake during work or school hours during the day.

It turns out that exposing yourself to light at very specific times can help to bring your internal clock back to normal.

Due to my shift work, I have personally battled with sleep disorder. It is also common for my circadian rhythm to become disrupted during the winter when exposure to light is more limited even during the day. For whatever non-medical reason that causes you to suffer from a sleep disorder, light therapy can prove to be effective in altering the circadian rhythm.

How does light therapy work to alter the internal body clock?

The hormone melatonin is largely responsible for sleep. At night, when most people typically go to sleep, the levels of melatonin increase and then decreases as morning approaches. Melatonin is very low during the day. Light is vital for the production of melatonin.

If you have shift work, or travel across different time zones, your exposure to light and darkness varies substantially. One week you could be working during the day and the next week you could be on the night shift; this pattern sets the ground for a disruption of your circadian rhythm.

It turns out that exposing yourself to light at very specific times can help to bring your internal clock back to normal. So, when I am working at night, getting adequate sleep during the day is important to be able to survive the night shift. As such, I expose myself to my portable light therapy just before dawn to hasten the time that I fall asleep when I get home.

On the other hand, if I am working during the day, I need to switch my internal clock back to regular night sleep hours. As such, I expose myself to bright light early in the morning. I have found dawn simulators to work particularly well in helping me to wake up gradually especially in fall and winter when there is little light coming in through the windows. Most dawn simulators will allow you to set the time when you want to wake up; this could be between 15 to 40 minutes. The simulator, which is a form of light therapy, will gradually illuminate the room as the sun would, allowing you time to progressively wake up as well.

Another alternative to a dawn simulator is the regular light therapy lamp. It is recommended that you expose yourself to at least 30 minutes of light soon after waking up. This works particularly well for me when I am working during the day. If you are unsure when to set your dawn simulator or the appropriate time to expose yourself to light treatment, your doctor should be able to help.