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Curing Insomnia, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, and Shift Work Disorder with Natural Light Therapy

Updated on January 29, 2016
Herb Bronson profile image

Herb Bronson researches and rates Light Therapy Devices for his blog. He has used light therapy to manage his own circadian disorder.

What are Circadian Disorders?

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is a common circadian disorder in which your sleeping schedule gets pushed back further and further into the night. DSPS results in frustration, insomnia, and eventually serious health and social problems, as your schedule becomes more and more out of line with the waking world. Shift Work Sleep Disorder is a similar circadian disorder which results from being exposed to bright lights late at night. Luckily, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and Shift Work Disorder are both caused by (and cured by) light exposure—something entirely within your control. Here are five easy steps to cure Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, Shift Work Disorder, or related chronic insomnia.

SAD Lamp
SAD Lamp | Source

Step 1: Bright Morning Light

Sunlight contains the full spectrum of electromagnetic wavelengths, both visible and invisible. Visible blue wavelengths from morning sunlight trigger a reaction in our retinas, telling our bodies to wake up and switch from the sleep hormone melatonin to the daytime hormones and neurotransmitters cortisol and serotonin. Getting plenty of sunshine as soon as you wake up dramatically resets your circadian rhythm for the next 24 hours. If getting sunlight is inconvenient or impossible (due to seasonal changes), a dawn simulator or Seasonal Affective Disorder light has been proven to work just as well. These devices emit a high percentage of the bright blue wavelengths that tell your body it’s morning. Reviews of popular Dawn Simulator Lamps can be found here.

Candles Emit Very Little Blue Light
Candles Emit Very Little Blue Light | Source

Step 2: Candle Therapy

Once the sun has set, you need to stay away from blue wavelengths of light, which will continue sending the “wake up” signals to your brain and preventing up to 99% of nighttime melatonin production. One very inexpensive trick is to use candles, which emit a much lower percentage of blue wavelengths than any modern lighting devices. While most modern fluorescent and LED lights range between 3000K and 4000K color temperature, candles burn at only 1000K (a much “warmer” and more relaxing color).

Step 3: Free Blue Shifting Apps

At 6500K, LCD computer and phone screens emit an even higher percentage of melatonin-blocking blue wavelengths than most light bulbs. You may have noticed that browsing the internet late at night can dramatically worsen your insomnia. Luckily, free apps like Twilight (for Android) and F.lux (for PC) can shift your computer screens, so that they emit a lower percentage of insomnia-causing blue wavelengths. While these apps are definitely an improvement, the maker of F.lux has admitted that it is simply not possible to remove all of the blue wavelengths from an LCD screen. F.lux can be downloaded for free at JustGetFlux.com

Blue Computer Screen Wavelengths Block Melatonin

Source
Native Amber LED Book Light
Native Amber LED Book Light | Source

Step 4: Amber lamps and Amber Book Lights

The best solution for eliminating blue wavelengths is the use of native amber LEDs, which emit only in the harmless amber spectrum of light. While relatively dim blue light (100 lux) has been proven to block 50% of melatonin production at night, even very bright amber light (800 lux) has been shown to allow undiminished melatonin production. Moreover, reading at night is among the top suggestions by cognitive behavioral sleep therapists, making reading a book by amber light perhaps the best choice for treating insomnia and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Amber Book lights can be found at SomniLight.com and LowBlueLights.com.

Native Amber LEDs Emit No Harmful Blue Wavelengths

Source
Blue-Blocking Amber Glasses
Blue-Blocking Amber Glasses

Step 5: Blue-Blocking Amber Glasses

For various reasons, many people cannot switch to candles or amber lights at night, whether it’s because they work a night shift or spend their evenings programming on a computer screen. In these cases, the best option by far is to wear blue-blocking amber glasses, which filter out up to 99% of the blue wavelengths that cause insomnia and circadian disorders. In one study, late night computer users who suffered from both ADHD and insomnia were able to fall asleep an average of 43 minutes earlier when wearing amber glasses during late night computer use. In another study, shift workers who wore amber glasses at the end of their shift “were able to fall asleep, on average, 34 minutes faster, improved sleep efficacy by 4.56%, and reduced their sleep fragmentation by 4.22%” (Sasseville, 2009).Read reviews of blue-blocking glasses here.

And that’s it! Using these techniques, I was able to cure my own Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome in a matter of weeks. With careful management of your lighting conditions, you too, can correct your circadian disorder or chronic insomnia!

Sources

Burkhard, K. & Phelps, J.R. (2009). Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: A randomized trial. Chronobiology International, 26 (8), 1602-1612.

Duffy, J.F. and Czeisler, C.A. (2009). Effect of Light on Human Circadian Physiology. Sleep Med Clin., (2), 165-177.

Ellis, E.V., Gonzales, E.W., and McEachron, D.L. (2013). Chronobioengineering indoor lighting to enhance facilities for ageing and Alzheimer’s disorder. Intelligent Buildings International, 5, 48-60

Fargason, Rachel E; Preston, Taylor; Hammond, Emily; May, Roberta; Gamble, Karen. “Treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder insomnia with blue wavelength light-blocking glasses.” ChronoPhysiology and Therapy, January 4, 2013.

Kayumov, L., Casper, R., Hawa, R., Perelman, B., Chung, S., Sokalsky, S., and Shapiro, C. (2005). Blocking Low-Wavelength Light Prevents Nocturnal Melatonin Suppression with No Adverse Effect on Performance during Simulated Shift Work. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 90 (5), 2755-2761

Kayumov L, Casper RF, Hawa RJ, Perelman B, Chung SA, Sokalsky S, Shapiro CM (May 2005). "Blocking low-wavelength light prevents nocturnal melatonin suppression with no adverse effect on performance during simulated shift work". J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 90 (5): 2755–61.

Rimmer DW, Boivin DB, Shanahan TL, Kronauer RE, Duffy JF, Czeisler CA. Dynamic resetting of the human circadian pacemaker by intermittent bright light. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2000 Nov;279(5):R1574-9.
PMID: 11049838

Sasseille, A., Benhaberou-Brun, D., Fontaine, C., Charon, M., and Hebert, M. (2009). Wearing Blue-Blockers in the morning could improve sleep of workers on a permanent night schedule: A pilot study. Chronobiology International, 26 (5), 913-925.


Jamie M Zeitzer, Derk-Jan Dijk, Richard E Kronauer, Emery N Brown, Charles A Czeisler
J Physiol. Sensitivity of the human circadian pacemaker to nocturnal light: melatonin phase resetting and suppression. 2000 August 1; 526(Pt 3): 695–702. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7793.2000.00695.x PMCID: PMC2270041.

Has Light Therapy Helped Your Circadian Sleep Disorder?

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