If you’re having trouble sleeping, the season might be the reason.
With darker days and colder temps, seasonal changes can take a toll on some of our day-to-day habits and routines.
You may be familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the mood disorder associated with depression during late autumn and winter. SAD is often due in part to the lack of light we receive (and vital vitamin D).
Light therapy has been shown to help people who suffer from depression and other symptoms of SAD. Light therapy boxes or lamps are a common treatment method and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and options. They’re typically electric powered and emit 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity). Studies have shown that sitting in front of a light box for about a 30 minutes each day can significantly help reduce symptoms of the seasonal blues.
And this same strategy might help with wintertime sleep problems as well.
A new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine is aimed at helping cancer patients get the sleep they need. About one-third of all cancer patients experience sleep disturbances that can sometimes last for years beyond their treatment periods.
Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recruited 44 cancer survivors who suffered from significant fatigue. Each patient was given a light box and instructed to spend 30 minutes with the box shining on their faces every morning. Half the group used light boxes containing bright white light, while the other half used light boxes with a dim red light.
During the four-week intervention, each volunteer wore a wrist actigraphy device that tracks activity and accesses circadian rhythms during sleep. They also filled out a post-study questionnaire.
Results showed that the bright light boxes increased sleep time and improved sleep quality to those of clinically normal levels. There were no changes in sleep efficiency in those who used the dim light boxes.
So could these results from fatigued cancer patients apply to non-patients who simply have sleep problems? I believe they can, because the common denominator here is melatonin.
As we’ve seen in other research, melatonin plays a key role in our 24-hour circadian rhythm. Under ideal circumstances, we’d go to sleep when darkness falls and wake when it’s light. In that perfect rhythm, our melatonin would rise naturally just before bedtime, and then drop shortly after waking.
This is why it’s so important to avoid lit screens (like the one you’re looking at right now) in the hour or two before bedtime. When darkness falls, a light-sensitive protein in the retinas of your eyes picks up that cue, which sends a message to your brain where melatonin is produced.
In the morning, daylight cues the protein again, which turns off melatonin production. According to Michaell Terman, Ph.D.— director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center — awaking from bright morning light anchors your internal clock.
It’s like hitting the reset button on your circadian rhythm. And even though it occurs about 16 hours before your next bedtime, this “anchoring” has a positive effect on how the next night’s sleep is going to go. But it can also have a negative effect if morning light is not sufficient enough to reset your inner clock.
If you’ve curbed your evening exposure to blue light from device screens and you’re still having trouble sleeping, try using a light box for a few minutes each morning. You can find many different models of light boxes online, including Amazon.com or www.verilux.com. The price range varies a great deal (with units anywhere from $30 to $300), so be sure to read reviews of the different products. You’ll want to have a clear idea of the pros and cons of any individual lighting unit, if it’ll cater to your particular needs, and if it will be a suitable size for your home or office space.
For more drug-free techniques to cure your insomnia and enjoy more quality sleep, check out Dr. Fred Pescatore’s Perfect Sleep Protocol. You can learn more or enroll today by clicking here.
Bright light therapy improves sleep in people treated for cancer
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
January 16, 2018
Can a SAD Lamp Really Make You Happy?
January 26, 2016