What is light therapy for insomnia? Well, it all depends on what type of insomnia you have.
The general rule is, you want to limit the amount of light you’re exposed to during your sleep time and increase the amount you let in while you’re awake.
So if you have primary insomnia, light therapy can be a simple enough process if you follow these steps:
1. Make sure your room is dark while you sleep.
If you have streetlights, billboards, neon signs, or traffic-lights beaming bright light into your bedroom at night, consider getting heavier drapes or window shades.
If you are a nightworker, you might need special light-blocking drapes or shades that actually make your bedroom as dark as night time.
2. When you get up during the night, avoid turning on any bright lights.
If you wake up during the night, you will want to use night lights, dim lamps or a flashlight when you need to get out of bed to go to the bathroom or anywhere else.
This is another reason to avoid TV and the computer when you can’t sleep — think of it as a part of light therapy for your insomnia to do so.
If you work on small menial jobs — as discussed in this insomnia tips article — in the interim period between now and curing your insomnia, you will need less light than if you read a book. Just a hint.
3. Increase the light in your bedroom in the morning for a natural wake up call.
The easiest way to do this is by using light alarm clocks. If you have an east-facing window and live in an area where sunlight is plentiful in the morning, you can just use natural light.
Again, if you are a nightworker and you use light-blocking window treatments, a light alarm clock can help stabilize your circadian rhythms.
4. Use light therapy to establish your sleep schedule.
If you want to get up earlier than you have been, adding more natural light to your room in the morning hours will help you wake up.
Light alarm clocks wake you up with a full-spectrum light that slowly grows brighter as it gets close to your set wake-up time. It is supposed to simulate a morning sunrise.
This is a kinder, gentler and more natural way to wake up in the morning, and the best part is, you can simulate a sunrise no matter what the time of day or how overcast it might be outside.
5. Use Bright Light Therapy to help Circadian Rhythm Disorders
For insomnia that is caused by disruption in your circadian rhythms, such as jet lag, variable shift work, nightworking, and so on, you can try “bright light therapy.”
This involves special high-intensity lamps that mimic natural sunlight. The light is dispersed evenly over a flat screen, and the lamp can sit on your desk or while you sit beside it.
Bright light therapy is also recommended for people with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, that causes depression, insomnia, weight gain from food cravings and difficulty concentrating during the winter months.
For people with circadian rhythm disorders or SAD – and for many chronic insomniacs as well – it is finding a harmonious balance between your amount of daily light and darkness during the 24-hour earth cycle that is most helpful.
6. Avoid too much darkness if you don’t like it.
Light can be stimulating, which is why avoiding brightness while you sleep is a good idea. But a room that is too dark, with not even enough light to see your way to the bathroom can also be a problem.
I like to have some light coming in so I can see where I am in relation to my furniture and so on. I find a totally dark room to be somewhat disorienting and disturbing. If you’re like me, and your night vision is not acute, a very low level of ambient light is preferable over total darkness.
Some people insist that a heavy darkness is their key to a good night’s sleep, while others like a night light on at all times.
That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to your own response to light. How much it affects your sleep, your waking up, and your ability to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night?
You’ll only learn this through observation, experimentation and trial and error.
Once you have discovered how light therapy works for you, put it to work in your insomnia self-help program.