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How light therapy could help you sleep

Around a third of Britons suffer from insomnia. (Getty Images)

Insomnia is a big problem, with millions of Britons struggling to nod off.

While the old wives’ tale tells you to count sheep, people who are desperate for some shut eye likely prefer a sleep aid that is proven to work.

Some are turning to light therapy, with the gentle glow thought to affect brain chemicals linked to sleep.

Light therapy is perhaps best known as a ‘mood booster’ for those developing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the dark winter months.

It may also be recommended for travellers with jet lag, sleep-disorder sufferers or night-time workers struggling to adapt to their anti-social hours.

Most of the light therapy screens, boxes and lamps on the market are for SAD, with research suggesting they may also help combat insomnia.

Users are encouraged to sit in front of a box that mimics outdoor light for a set period of time every day.

This is thought to re-set the body clock, which follows an approximate 24-hour cycle, responding to natural light and dark changes in the outside world.

A “correctly functioning” internal clock should lead to the release of the “sleep hormone” melatonin, while also lowering body temperature in time for bed.

In 2008, scientists from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote how “a large body of literature” supports light therapy in “laboratory settings” in young people.

When it comes to older people, who tend to be more at risk of sleep disorders, the team said the results are “less consistent”.

They concluded the findings are “mixed”, but overall “suggest a favourable effect in older persons”.

Although not a “cure”, some find sitting in front of a light box increases their energy levels after a night tossing and turning.

This may take some commitment, with some not noticing any benefit for weeks or having to play around with different light intensities.

Research generally suggests light boxes work best in the morning, however, some may benefit from evening use.

“Bright light administered in the evening has been shown to delay the circadian rhythm,” scientists from Flinders University in Adelaide wrote.

“Therefore, using a regime of evening bright light therapy, individuals experiencing early morning awakening insomnia may be able to delay their sleep/wake cycle resulting in a later wake up time.

“Overall total sleep time would increase and daytime functioning would improve.”

For those with delayed sleep phase syndrome – a condition that shifts sleep patterns outside of “social norms” – the time of light exposure is “critical”.

“The light must be delivered to the retina as soon after spontaneous awakening as possible to achieve the desired effect,” Stanford scientists wrote.

By filtering out damaging UV light, the therapy is generally considered safe, although some report eye sensitivity, headache, nausea and general jitteriness.

Shop the three top-rated light therapy buys

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Portable Light Therapy Lamp | £37.99 from Amazon

Portable Light Therapy Lamp

The Hosome Portable Light Therapy delivers 10,000 lux intensity, as well as three colours of light, while also working to filter out harmful UV rays, to help those with SAD or struggling to sleep.

The device also has a built-in timer, and your preferences can be stored in their memory function.

The item has racked up 80% worth of five star reviews, with some hailing it an “awesome” item, and a portable product they would recommend to others.

Arabica SAD light | £99.95 from Lumie

Arabica SAD light

The Arabica SAD Lightbox has been praised as a “sturdy, cool looking and mood lifting” light therapy treatment from customers.

The prop emits cool white light, which is UV free, and lightweight to boost the user’s mood and energy levels.

Lumie Desklamp Touch Dimmable SAD Light | £143.99 from John Lewis & Partners

Lumie Desklamp Touch Dimmable SAD Light

People often spend most of their day at their desks away from natural sunlight, but this nifty prop will help to combat that.

This desk side prop is enriched with white LEDs so you can get your dose of light therapy at all times.

This lamp can be adjusted and tilted to suit your preferences, so it is no wonder it has received rave reviews from customers and been hailed the best “multi purpose lamp”.