Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Bright Light Therapy

Light therapy is a treatment used for people who suffer from circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Your body has an internal clock that tells it when it is time to be asleep and when it is time to be awake.

This clock is located in the brain just above an area where the nerves travel to the eyes. This area is called the SCN. Your clock controls the “circadian rhythms” in your body. These rhythms include body temperature, alertness and the daily cycle of many hormones.

The word “circadian” means to occur in a cycle of about 24 hours. Circadian rhythms make you feel sleepy or alert at regular times every day. Some people have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. This causes their natural sleep time to overlap with regular awake activities such as work or school.

Among other factors, your clock is “set” by your exposure to bright light such as sunlight. Exposure to bright light or “light therapy” is one method used to treat people with a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

The goal for treating patients who have circadian rhythm problems is to combine a healthy sleep pattern with an internal clock that is set at the right time. This will allow them to enjoy the benefits of good sleep.

Light therapy can help someone “re-set” a clock that is off. Regular sleep patterns help to keep the clock set at the new time. Light therapy is only part of a treatment plan that should be guided by a doctor who is familiar with sleep disorders.

Light therapy is used to expose your eyes to intense but safe amounts of light for a specific and regular length of time. In many places, sunlight is not available at the proper time to be used as treatment.

Artificial light may be used to affect the body clock in the same way that sunlight does. New advances continue to be made in this field.