Can Bright Lights Help You Sleep Better?

My latest for Cafe is on using light therapy to correct wonky sleep schedules (very relevant to my life!).

I’ve also gotten questions about melatonin supplements, so I’ll give a brief explanation here. My understanding is that melatonin supplements have shown moderate effects for helping people fall asleep. One big problem is that the dosages of most pills are too high; at really high doses (>1 mg) it stops working after a while, sometimes after just a few days. Unfortunately the scientist at MIT who first created the supplemental form holds a patent for doses up to 1 mg.

Light therapy is actually often used in conjunction with melatonin supplements. Firstly, synergy: using both can push your sleep cycle in either direction for more than 2.5 hours. But another benefit of light therapy is that it can really be more effective for treating insomnia when it is coupled with seasonal affective disorder or other depression. I think for both light therapy and melatonin supplements, it’s particularly useful to nail down the timing of when to use the light or take the pills, based on your phase response curve (which I discuss in the article). At supplement doses around 0.3 mg, a dosage level studies have shown to be effective over a long term, you should take the pills a few hours before bedtime. In general, however, timing depends on some experimentation under the guidance of a doctor.

Image Source: Flickr/ Russell Bernice

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