We are reader-supported and sometimes earn a commission if you buy through a link on our site.

Red Light Therapy For Sleep: Does It Help You Fall Asleep Faster?

Last Reviewed on May 1, 2024

Unleash the power of red light therapy for sleep! Explore how this natural sleep solution enhances the quality and duration of your slumber, leaving you refreshed, revitalized, and ready to conquer the day.

Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep?

Do you find yourself feeling sluggish and unproductive throughout the day?

Perhaps it’s time to explore red light therapy.

Red light therapy is a safe and non-invasive way to improve your sleep quality and quantity.

By exposing yourself to red light for a short period each day, you can reset your body’s natural sleep cycle and wake up feeling more energized and focused.

Studies have shown that red light therapy can increase the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. This can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer periods of time.

Interested in learning more about this natural and effective method for better sleep?

Keep on reading.

What Can Red Light Therapy Help With?

First, let’s talk about what types of sleep issues red light therapy can help with.

According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, there are around 90 different types of sleep disorders [1].

(That’s quite a lot!)

Woman with insomnia lying on pillow at night

While amazing, this light-based treatment isn’t going to magically treat every single type of sleep disorder.

For instance, if you struggle with sleep apnea, red light therapy isn’t going to do much for you. It also won’t magically fix your sleep deprivation.

That said, red light waves can be beneficial for those suffering from insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders (aka sleep-wake cycle disorders).

So, if you’re a frequent traveler who suffers from jet lag or a shift worker who works non-traditional hours, red light therapy just might be the key to more rejuvenating, refreshing sleep.

How Light Affects Your Sleep

Before we dive into red light therapy’s effects on sleep, it’s important we explain how light affects your sleep cycle.

Imagine your body has its own special clock that tells it when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to sleep.

This clock is called your circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm illustration

Light plays a big role in controlling this clock.

When it’s daytime and the sun is shining, your body gets a signal from the light that it’s time to be awake and active.

This light goes into your eyes and sends a message to a special part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).

The SCN takes this message and tells the rest of your body that it’s daytime, so you should be awake and full of energy.

But, when it’s nighttime and the sun goes down, there’s less light.

Your body gets a different signal from this change in light.

The SCN receives this message and understands that it’s time to wind down and get ready for bed.

It starts telling your body to produce a hormone called melatonin, which helps you feel sleepy.

So, light helps your body know when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime.

It helps keep your body’s clock running smoothly.

That’s why it’s important to have a regular sleep schedule and make sure you get enough darkness at night, so your body can produce melatonin and help you have a good night’s sleep.

Blue Light: Bad For Sleep

As it gets darker outside, our bodies are supposed to start winding down and getting ready for bed.

The problem is that we often use many artificial lights in the evening, like bright lamps, TVs, computers, and phones.

These devices emit a lot of blue light.

Man using phone in bed at night

When we’re exposed to this bright, blue light in the evening, it confuses our body and tricks it into thinking it’s still daytime.

It’s like the lights are saying, “Hey, it’s daytime. Stay awake!” Even though we know that it’s nighttime and that we should be feeling sleepy.

This is a problem because our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin that helps us fall asleep.

Melatonin is like a sleepy signal that tells our brain it’s time to rest.

But, when we’re exposed to bright lights (especially artificial blue light), it can suppress the production of melatonin.

So, even if it’s late at night, our body doesn’t get the message to wind down and prepare for sleep.

The result is that it becomes harder for us to fall asleep.

Our sleep quality can suffer, and we may feel less rested the next day.

Red & Near Infrared Light: Good For Sleep

Remember our special sleep clock?

Well, it turns out that red light is a friendly signal to our sleep clock.

Woman using red light therapy while getting ready for sleep

Unlike bright lights or blue lights, red light doesn’t confuse our sleep clock. It also doesn’t suppress our melatonin production.

When we see red light in the evening, our sleep clock understands that it’s nighttime and tells our body to start feeling tired.

Using red light in the evening is like a gentle reminder to our bodies that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

It helps our sleep clock work properly and send the right signals to our body.

Unlike shorter wavelengths of blue (470 nm) and green (525 nm) light, red light (660 nm) did not suppress melatonin production [2].

Red Light & Sleep

Here’s how red light exposure can improve our sleep.

Fall Asleep Faster

Red light therapy can help us fall asleep faster by boosting our melatonin production.

In one study, researchers found red light (658 nm) to increase serum melatonin levels.

Participants also reported improved sleep quality via the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), which scores subjects on the following metrics:

  • Sleep quality
  • Sleep latency
  • Sleep duration
  • Habitual sleep efficiency
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Use of sleeping medications
  • Daytime dysfunction

Those that received red light therapy saw improvements across all the above metrics when compared to the control (people who received a placebo treatment).

Based on these results, researchers concluded that “red-light illumination is a positive non-pharmacologic and non-invasive therapy to prevent sleep disorders after training” [3].

In other words, this red light treatment can be a great option for those looking to improve their sleep without relying on drugs.

Tip: Use red light as your main light source during the evening. You’ll still be able to see, and it won’t hurt your sleep!

Wake Up Refreshed

You know how sometimes when you wake up in the morning, you feel a little bit groggy and it takes a little while for your body to fully wake up? 

That’s sleep inertia.

Sleep inertia is like a sleepy fog that hangs around for a little bit after we wake up.

It can make us feel a bit slow, fuzzy, and not quite ready to jump out of bed and start our day.

It’s as if our body needs some extra time to shake off the sleepiness and become fully awake.

Sleep inertia usually goes away on its own after a little while.

That said, feeling groggy after a night’s sleep is never a good feeling.

Groggy man holding coffee mug
When you wake up groggy and pray that your morning coffee will make you feel human again.

Fortunately, red light therapy can help fight some of this morning grogginess.

A 2019 study found red light exposure to mitigate sleep inertia upon waking.

During the 3-week experiment, participants maintained a regular sleep schedule.

These 30 people were split into three groups:

  • Group 1: Wore a “red light mask” during sleep
  • Group 2: Wore “red light goggles” upon waking
  • Group 3: No red light (the control)

After sleeping 90 minutes, participants were then asked to undergo auditory performance testing.

These individuals were asked to complete two tasks, including a “go-no-go” test where they were supposed to click a button when hearing “go” and do nothing when hearing “no-go”.

Those that received red light performed better than the control. They responded more quickly and made fewer errors.

What’s more, these participants also reported feeling less sleepy and less groggy upon waking [4].

Sleep inertia may be more of a problem for those that are sleep deprived or have more inconsistent sleep-wake cycles (e.g. shift workers, first responders, medical professionals). These individuals may experience this grogginess more frequently and for a longer period.

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Sleep

When it comes to using red light therapy for sleep, there are two main use cases: 1) at night, before bed and 2) in the morning, after waking up.

Before Bed

Red light therapy is best suited for use at night and before bed. It can help you unwind and get your body ready for sleep.

Ideally, you’ll want to use red LED light an hour or two before bed. Make sure the light is positioned in a way that it illuminates the room without being too bright or directly shining in your eyes.

You can read a book, meditate, or simply relax in bed while doing this.

Once you’re ready for bed, turn off all light sources (including the red light). It’s important to sleep in a dark environment because darkness helps signal to your body that it’s time to rest.

After Waking Up

While not as popular as bright light therapy (aka light boxes), red light therapy can also be used in the morning.

It can help reduce some grogginess and get you ready for the day, especially if you wake up before the sun is up.

Spend 10-20 minutes in front of your red light therapy device.

The red light mimics the natural light of the rising sun, which helps stimulate alertness and regulate your body’s internal clock.

Woman doing red light therapy in the morning while drinking coffee

Keep in mind that consistency is key. If you decide to incorporate red light therapy into your morning routine, try to use it at the same time each day to establish a regular schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about red light therapy and sleep.

Is Red Light Therapy Safe For Sleep?

Yes, red light therapy is generally considered safe for sleep when used appropriately. The low-level red light used in therapy does not produce harmful UV rays like sunlight or tanning beds. However, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and avoid looking directly into the light source.

How Does Red Light Therapy Help With Sleep?

Red light therapy can help with sleep by promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and supporting the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. It helps create a calming environment and can improve sleep quality.

What Is The Best Time To Use Red Light Therapy For Sleep?

Red light therapy is typically used in the evening, about an hour or two before bedtime. It helps signal to the body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for bed. However, some individuals may also find benefit in using red light therapy in the morning to enhance wakefulness and fight grogginess.

Can I Use Red Light Therapy While I’m In Bed?

Yes, you can use red light therapy while in bed, as long as the light source is positioned appropriately. Ensure that the light is not too bright or shining directly into your eyes to avoid discomfort or disruption to your circadian rhythm.

How Long Should I Use Red Light Therapy For Sleep?

The recommended duration of red light therapy for sleep can vary. Generally, 10 to 20-minute sessions are the most common. It’s important to start with shorter durations and gradually increase if needed, based on your personal response and comfort.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Red light therapy is generally well-tolerated with minimal side effects. However, some individuals may experience mild eye strain or fatigue if exposed to bright red light for extended periods. It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any specific concerns or medical conditions.

Final Thoughts

Harnessing the power of red light wavelengths can be a game-changer for achieving a blissful night’s sleep.

With its gentle, soothing glow, red light therapy helps create an optimal environment for relaxation and unwinding.

By mimicking the natural rhythms of sunlight, it supports the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, ensuring a smooth transition into dreamland.

So, bid farewell to restless nights, and say hello to more restful sleep.

Unleash the magic of red light therapy, and awaken refreshed, revitalized, and ready to conquer each day with renewed vigor.

Your journey to the land of sweet dreams begins now.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11763987/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499892/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6506010/
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

John Ni, BSc.

John, a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, serves as a respected scientific reviewer at TherapeuticBeams.com. His expertise extends across various domains, including chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and dermatology. He contributes to publications like Royal Society of Chemistry, Drug Topics, and Practical Dermatology.

John Ni, Content Editor & Scientific Review

Leave a Comment