Light Therapy for Insomnia Sufferers

National Sleep Foundation

In some cases, light therapy can be helpful for people with insomnia. If you are working with your primary care doctor or a sleep specialist for insomnia, you can ask if this is an appropriate treatment for you. Light therapy might be indicated if you have tried other forms of treatment or if your doctor thinks your particular insomnia symptoms call for this mode of therapy.

In light therapy, you sit near a special light box for a certain amount of time each day. The light from this box mimics outdoor light (which is important for regulating your body’s sleeping and waking cycles). Exposure to this bright light helps to adjust your circadian rhythm — physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle and respond primarily to light and darkness in the environment — and may help certain people sleep earlier at night or sleep later in the morning. Light therapy is designed to use visible light, while filtering out ultraviolet rays.

The most effective light therapy is consistent and properly timed—that usually means integrating light therapy sessions into your daily life. You can read, use a computer, write, talk, or do other activities while sitting in front of your light box.

Light therapy boxes are available in stores and online, and in some cases they are covered by insurance. It’s best to use light therapy under the supervision of a doctor (especially if you have an eye disorder), therapist, or sleep specialist to help you choose the best kind, the right intensity, and to decide on a treatment plan. There is some research showing light therapy is effective for certain types of insomnia. However, some patients report problems, which can include eye irritation and dryness, headache, nausea, and dryness of skin.