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Red Light Therapy for Sleep, Melatonin and Circadian Rhythm

Posted on March 22, 2020

Red light therapy is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers concentrated natural light to your skin and cells. Clinical research is showing that red light therapy can improve sleep quality and duration, and help people produce more of their own melatonin. [1]


Light plays a major role in your sleep cycle. The body’s circadian clock interprets light as a sign of when to sleep and when to be awake. [2] Artificial blue light from phones, computers, and other screens is extremely bright and can knock your circadian rhythm out of whack.


Red light has the opposite effect: it’s ideal for evenings because it has a low color temperature—far lower than blue light and much closer to the natural sunset. [3]


Red light therapy treatments are quick and simple: you just sit or stand in natural light for 5 to 15 minutes, ideally every day. This stimulates your mitochondria and gives your cells the natural light they need to make energy.


Bright Blue Light Versus Natural Light


Poor sleep is an epidemic in America and Europe, and light intake is a big part of the problem. Over 65% of adults say they don’t get enough good sleep every week. [4] Most people also don’t get nearly enough natural light for optimal health: the average American spends over 90% of their time indoors. [5]


In addition to not getting enough natural light, people today are surrounded by artificial blue light from screens and overhead lighting. An overload of artificial blue light can cause headaches and make it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep. [6] When we take in all that bright blue light from laptops, TVs, and phones—especially before we go to bed—our bodies get the signal that it's time to be awake, even if we're tired.


Red light therapy is natural light. It’s much less bright than blue light, with a lower color temperature than daytime sun, as the image above shows. [3] Research has shown that red light doesn’t upset your sleep cycle like bright blue light. [7] And red light therapy is showing great clinical results for people with insomnia and sleep disorders.


How Does Red Light Therapy Help You Sleep?


Natural light is a key ingredient for a healthy circadian rhythm and restful sleep. If you struggle to sleep, your light intake could be a big factor. Red light therapy delivers natural light like you’d get from the sun, but without UV rays, excess heat, or the need for sunny weather. This makes a Red/NIR Light device ideal for supplementing low natural light intake.

Red light therapy treatments supercharge your cells with the natural light they need to make more core ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy. This helps your body run more efficiently, heal faster, and has shown great results for producing more natural melatonin and improving sleep disorders like insomnia. [1]


Red light therapy also produces a natural anti-inflammatory effect, and has been shown to increase blood circulation. [8]


Restful Sleep with Red Light Therapy


Red light therapy treatments have shown great sleep results in a range of peer-reviewed clinical studies. One study on the sleep of pro basketball players showed that a 2-week course of red light therapy in the evening improved players’ sleep quality in the short term. Based on the results, the researchers suggested red light therapy would be a good non-invasive, drug-free solution to sleep struggles. [9]


Overcoming Sleep Disorders with Red Light Therapy


WellFit’s light therapy products are registered with the FDA as class II medical devices for the treatment of pain, strain, and inflammation. While the existing clinical research has been very positive for red light therapy and sleep, keep in mind that these devices are not cleared with the FDA for the treatment of various sleep disorders or melatonin.


Recent research on sleep disorders among people with migraine headaches has shown that red light therapy both decreased headache frequency, and was the only treatment that improved patients’ sleep disorders. [10]


A 2014 study on cognitive function and traumatic brain injury (TBI) recorded that participants had significantly decreased episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and improved sleep. [11]


Analyzing patients’ electrical brain activity, a 2013 sleep study concluded that red light therapy was especially effective at helping people with sleep disorders fall asleep. [12]


Melatonin Increases with Red Light Therapy


Melatonin is the naturally-occurring hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Emerging research is showing that red light therapy treatments can help people produce more of their own, natural melatonin than exposure to other light sources like blue light. [1]


Health Experts and Professionals Use Red Light Therapy for Better Sleep


World-renowned memory and learning expert and coach Jim Kwik uses Red Light for cognitive function and quality sleep.


“Since using these full-body devices for the past year, my sleep quality is much better and I've noticed significant improvements in overall cognitive function. You should absolutely consider adding light therapy to your daily routine.”

Jim Kwik

CEO and Founder of Kwik Learning


Pro athletes sleep better with Red Light: Many of the pro athletes who use Red Light for training have said it helps them sleep better too. NFL star Patrick Peterson said Red/NIR Light has totally changed his mental game and sleep quality. UFC champ Anthony Pettis wrote that it helps him wind down before bed and gets deeper sleep.


Gold medal gymnast Sanne Wevers uses Red light to train and recover from strain. She’s seen a nice, unexpected improvement in her sleep quality as well:


“When I’m indoors training under the buzz of artificial lights, my body doesn’t get the natural light it needs. Add computers, cell phones, televisions, etc. and it’s easy to overload yourself with blue light. I used to have trouble sleeping after long training days, but since adding more natural light to my routine with the Red/NIR devices, I’ve been falling asleep as soon as I lie down, and I’ve been staying asleep all night.”

Sanne Wevers

Gold-Medal Winning Dutch Gymnast


Red Light Therapy, Sleep, Depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


Research is showing how closely mood and sleep disorders are interconnected. Parts of the brain that regulate sleep have also been found to closely affect mood. [13] A 2013 review concluded that “nearly all people suffering from mood disorders have significant disruptions in circadian rhythms and the sleep/wake cycle.” [14]


A Greatist post on natural light and serotonin gives good background on the connections between natural light intake, mental health, and sleep. It also mentions using red light therapy devices to get more natural light, even when you can’t get more sunlight.


Trouble sleeping is one of the most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression most common in the darker winter months. [15] Some physicians treating patients with mental health disorders have said red light therapy both improves mood, and helps people with depression get better sleep.


Emerging clinical research is also showing the potential for other red light therapy benefits, like skin healing and rejuvenation, and fitness and training. The initial research is also encouraging for red light therapy and hormone health.


Side Effects and Risks of Red Light Therapy


Red light therapy has been tested and analyzed in thousands of peer-reviewed trials. The consensus among medical researchers and the clinical community is that natural light treatments are safe, well-tolerated, and produce little to no side effects. Research teams have concluded this in study after study.


Dermatology researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a review of red light therapy in 2013 and praised its “noninvasive nature and almost complete absence of side effects.” [16]


This is a big advantage for red light therapy, in contrast to the dependency issues and cognitive risks associated with many sleep medications. [17]


Disclaimers and considerations: The information on this page is meant to educate readers about the science, research, and health benefits of red light therapy. Consult a trusted health professional for the diagnosis and treatment of specific medical conditions.


These Red/NIR light therapy products are registered with the FDA as class II medical devices for the treatment of pain, strain, and inflammation. Other health benefits mentioned in this article are for educational purposes only and not intended to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices, and not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease. The information presented is based on peer-reviewed clinical research, including information about emerging studies and scientific inquiries.


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