Insomnia can be particularly challenging for seniors, as our sleep patterns tend to change as we age, making it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. If you’re asking “does red light help you sleep,” you’re in for some welcome news
Red light therapy helped subjects with sleep disturbances, including insomnia, in several studies. The studies did not focus solely on seniors with insomnia. So we have to extrapolate why it helped and make an educated guess as to how the therapy can help seniors.
The evidence is good that this therapy relieves insomnia. I’m looking forward to seeing more studies of relatively healthy subjects. The studies you’ll learn about in this article were not exclusively about the elderly receiving help with insomnia. More so, dementia and cognitive investigations showed insomnia improvements in seniors; and the studies that focused on insomnia tended to include a younger set of subjects.
- Red light helps you sleep
- Evidence for red light therapy (RLT) helping insomnia in the elderly is available in dementia and brain injury studies
- Clinical studies show RLT helps seniors fall asleep and to stay asleep
- The therapy increases ATP, improves brain repair, triggers blood flow, and reduces pain. These help with sleep
What is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy (RLT), also known as photobiomodulation, is a non-invasive therapy for a variety of conditions, available for at-home treatment without a doctor’s prescription.
RLT uses low-level red light wavelengths to
- promote healing
- reduce inflammation
- alleviate pain
- improve cellular function
- improve mitochondrial function
- boost cellular energy (adenosine triphosphate)
RLT is Backed by Science
First invented in 1967, photobiomodulation has since been the focus of over 9000 scientific studies, demonstrating significant positive results in various areas of health and wellness.
A Standard for Wound Healing
One area in which red light therapy has shown promise is wound healing, as it has been found to stimulate cellular activity and reduce inflammation, resulting in faster healing times.
Prevents Cognitive Decline
Additionally, studies have shown that red light therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory loss and cognitive decline.
Supports Muscles, Reduces Pain
Furthermore, red light therapy has been found to be effective in promoting exercise recovery, reducing pain and inflammation, and even improving skin health.
With such a wide range of potential benefits, red light therapy is a promising treatment option for a variety of health conditions and concerns.
How Red Light Therapy Works
Red light therapy has been extensively researched, and the mechanisms underlying its therapeutic effects are well understood.
Improves Mitochondria and ATP
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the biological battery that powers the body and brain. RLT empowers the mitochondria to make more ATP, which is how RLT energizes the cells.
This means that RLT helps with cellular function and repair.
Plus that, the same action that improves ATP production also opens blood vessels. Improved blood flow also helps with cellular repair, not to mention reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
Activates Transcription Factors
Another mechanism involves the activation of transcription factors, which regulate gene expression and can lead to changes in cellular function. Red light therapy also increases the levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a signaling molecule that regulates metabolism and inflammation.
Increases Synaptogenesis and Neurogenesis
Red light therapy has been shown to stimulate synaptogenesis and neurogenesis, which are the growth and development of new neurons and synapses in the brain. This can improve brain function and cognitive performance, leading to better sleep quality and reduced insomnia symptoms.
Finally, red light therapy has been found to halt unnecessary apoptosis, which is the programmed cell death of damaged or dysfunctional cells. By promoting cellular repair and reducing tissue damage, red light therapy can have a positive impact on a wide range of health conditions, including insomnia in seniors.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy for the Brain
This innovative therapy has shown promising results in improving various aspects of health and wellness, including those related to the brain. RLT has been shown to improve brain-related concerns including sleep and insomnia.
This is important because poorly functioning brains often accompany poor sleep.
RLT helps with:
RLT Improves Thinking and Memory
RLT has been found to improve cognition and memory.
A study published in the journal Neuroscience Letters found that RLT can improve cognitive function in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. The study showed that RLT can improve attention, memory, and executive function.
Another study published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research found that RLT can improve spatial memory and learning in rats. Therefore, RLT can be a useful tool for individuals looking to improve their cognitive function and memory.
RLT Improves Emotional Well-Being
In studies on depression, dementia, and brain injury, researchers have found that RLT improves depression and anxiety.
RLT can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals with seasonal affective disorder, according to a study published in the Journal BMC Psychiatry . Since insomnia is often bundled with anxiety, this study indirectly supports using RLT to help with sleep problems.
RLT Helps Brain Injured with Mood
RLT improves thinking, memory, anxiety, and depression in brain injury victims, according to a study published in the Journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. This study also found that the brain-injured subjects had fewer nightmares, and spent a greater amount of time in restful sleep after RLT.
Sleep Studies Showing RLT Helps with Senior Sleep
RLT has been found to improve sleep quality in seniors and other adults.
How Red Light Helps You Sleep
Senior sleep improved in the course of the study “Significant Improvement in Cognition in Mild to Moderately Severe Dementia Cases Treated with Transcranial Plus Intranasal Photobiomodulation: Case Series Report.
This study is important because it combines cognitive impairment and sleep disturbances. The subjects with dementia and insomnia faired well in both thinking and sleep improvement.
Investigators tested head and nasal light on seniors with dementia. Subjects’ ages ranged from 72 to 90 years old.
The study found that photobiomodulation therapy was effective in improving cognitive function in seniors with various stages of dementia. The subjects experienced better sleep quality during the therapy period.
RLT Helps Athletes with Sleep Duration
The study “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial using a low-frequency magnetic field in the treatment of insomnia” tested the therapy on female athletes in China.
The study included the effects of RLT combined with low-frequency magnetic fields, so this was not a standalone red light therapy study.
The study found that the therapy was effective in improving sleep quality. They used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to standardize the test results.
The therapy was effective in reducing the number of nighttime awakenings. Subjects experienced an increase in the duration of slow wave sleep (SWS), a type of deep sleep that is important for physical and mental restoration.
RLT Soothes Sleep in Middle-Aged Woman with Guillain-Barre
A 48-year-old woman presented with Guillain -Barre after receiving a Covid vaccine. The Guillain Barre side effect caused the subject pain that caused insomnia and disturbed sleep.
This was reported in the study “The effects of intravascular photobiomodulation on sleep disturbance caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome after AstraZeneca vaccine inoculation.”
The subjects’ symptoms included:
- ankle, lower extremity, and upper extremity numbness and paresthesia (skin crawling)
- whole body muscle soreness
- paresthesia in hands and feet
- prickling pain and numbness in the hands and feet
- facial numbness
- temporomandibular joint pain
Her diagnosis included:
- sensory-motor polyradiculoneuropathy (autoimmune disorder)
- severe demyelination
- mild axonal degeneration
The pain woke her 2 to 3 times per night. After five days of RLT, her pain greatly reduced. She slept better and the insomnia subsided once the pain relief set in.
Fibromyalgia, Anxiety, and Bruxism Insomnia and Sleep Improvements
Several studies on Fibromyalgia, and anxiety showed success in helping subjects sleep after RLT.
Just two examples of several I found include these below.
Patients with pain often have difficulty falling asleep. In the study “Using a laser-based program in patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” two of the 11 subjects started the study with sleep disturbances. Along with fibromyalgia pain, insomnia, and sleep disturbances resolved during the course of the therapy used in this study.
Subjects with Generalized Anxiety Disorder fell asleep significantly faster after RLT treatments for 8 weeks, according to the study “Transcranial Photobiomodulation with Near-Infrared Light for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Pilot Study.”
One can certainly wish that the science focused more on seniors with insomnia in red light therapy studies. The quality of the science is good, but the focus tends to be on seniors only when cognitive impairment is the main focus.
We can extrapolate, though, that the reduction of pain necessarily improves sleep quality, when that pain is keeping the patient awake. Red light therapy is excellent at reducing and even resolving pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis, exercise, vascular considerations, and neurological causes.
The improvement in cognitive function along with improved sleep would appear to be a virtuous cycle as well. Sleep deprivation causes brain fog, which lowers cognitive scores. We know that red light therapy significantly improves the quality of brain life for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The sleep improvements in those seniors are most likely a virtuous cycle that allows sleep improvements to better cognitive outcomes, and cognitive outcomes to improve sleep.