Red Light and Sleep - Good for Longevity?
With sleep being such a big pillar of longevity, red light’s potential in improving sleep may contribute to its ability to also increase your lifespan. So, how can you incorporate this unique light therapy to aid in your potentiall life extending sleep habits?
Red Light Therapy History
First, let’s talk about red light therapy (RLT).
Also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM), red light therapy is just as it sounds: using light as treatment, specifically for skin and health conditions.
Red light therapy has gained in popularity over the last couple decades, as consumer interest in natural health has started to increase and it’s become a go-to in consumers’ cosmetic arsenal, reducing wrinkles and providing overall skin rejuvenation.
The first low-level laser therapy device was developed by Hungarian physician Endre Mester in 1967. It was initially tested on skin cancer and later on wound-healing processes. Although it took some time, the FDA approved its first red light therapy device in 2002.
Interestingly, in the 1990s, NASA discovered red light therapy’s ability to heal wounds and grow plants quicker. They even ran a study with Navy SEALs that demostrated wounds can heal 40% quicker when exposed to RLT.
Although light therapy has been around for centuries, there’s been an increase in clinical research which document its benefits with minimal side effects. This combined with the availability of affordable and clinically-effective therapy devices has allowed red light therapy to thrive in recent years.
How Does Red Light Support Sleep?
Although red light therapy has been around for decades, the benefits are still being researched. However, here are several ways red light exposure may support sleep:
Red light has been suggested to potentially increase melatonin production. A study was conducted on female basketball players, and it was found that their serum melatonin levels increased after 14 days of red light therapy. Additionally, their sleep quality and endurance both improved.
Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, plays a vital role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. It rises in the evening, signaling to the body that it’s time to transition from wakefulness to sleep, which is all part of promoting good sleep and a regular circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock).
In a nutshell, the higher your levels of melatonin, the better you sleep.
That said, not all light is good for your melatonin levels. Blue light and other forms of lighting (e.g. the lights in your room) can reset your circadian rhythm and inhibit the production of melatonin. This is why we recommend minimizing your exposure to blue light.
Potentially Improve Insomnia
Exposure to red light may be able to improve insomnia and other sleep disorders.
A study found that light therapy contributed to improved sleep in a group of cancer survivors with high levels of fatigue and insomnia. The study was also quick to say that light therapy may not be enough on its own to significantly improve sleep, as a general rule.
Pain and Inflammation Relief
The use of red light and near-infrared light have been shown to provide anti-inflammatory and pain relief benefits. It goes without saying that chronic pain can make it difficult to get good sleep. Additionally, chronic inflammation can also contribute to poor sleep. Therefore, red light therapy’s ability to alleviate inflammation and pain can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Red light therapy has been shown to help provide relaxation and even improve mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Stress can inhibit your ability to have quality sleep, so red light therapy’s ability to lower stress can provide a more conducive environment for restful sleep. One study showed red light therapy was able to alleviate anxiety symptoms in test subjects, and it also showed that they were able to sleep better afterward.
Using Red Light to Improve Sleep
To incorporate red light therapy into your sleep hygiene practices, there are a few things to consider.
First, you’ll want to make sure you find a red light therapy device that emits at the correct wavelength, which is in the range of 600-700 nanometers. You can choose from red light panels, masks, and handheld wands.
Secondly, you’ll want to use the device at the best time of day. Use your red light therapy device at night anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before sleep to feel relaxed and to prepare for sleep. You only need 5-10 minutes to get an effective session in. You can follow this protocol anywhere from three to seven times a week.
Red Light Therapy for Sleep
Although more studies are needed, there is a potential link between red light therapy and better sleep. From increasing melatonin production, aiding in relaxation, and providing anti-inflammatory and pain relief benefits, red light may help you sleep longer and better.
If you haven’t tried red light therapy for sleep, consider getting a red light therapy device you can use in the comfort of your own home and follow a regular protocol daily to see if it helps support your sleep over time.
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