Are Light Therapy Glasses Right for Me?

Phototherapy via Glasses Improves Circadian and Mood Disorders

The use of light therapy glasses may help with winter depression, jet lag, and insomnia in night owls
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Light therapy glasses look a little futuristic, casting a blue light over the eyes and onto the face. In some ways, they are. But light therapy delivered via glasses also relies on science that is as old as time.

The use of light therapy glasses may be helpful to manage circadian mood and sleep disorders like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), insomnia, and jet lag.

They may offer a boost of energy on a winter morning. How do light therapy glasses work and are they right for you? Learn about phototherapy, circadian rhythms, and the usefulness of artificial light delivered via glasses for several conditions.

What Is Light Therapy?

Light therapy, or phototherapy, is the use of light to treat a medical condition. It may be helpful to treat problems that occur when the internal circadian rhythm is misaligned to the natural patterns of light and darkness. This may impact your ability to sleep, the release of hormones including melatonin, and even mood and energy levels.

Light therapy may be accomplished by properly timed exposure to sunlight. Unfortunately, living at northern latitudes may make this more difficult in the winter months. In some cases, an artificial source of light may be needed.

There are certain medical conditions that respond extremely well to this treatment, but how is it delivered?

Light Boxes Versus Light Glasses

Historically, light boxes were used to artificially deliver phototherapy. Initially quite large, the technology has become more portable. In fact, there are now several brands of light glasses that are capable of performing the task.

Ayo

The smallest glasses are available for $299 from Ayo.

With a well-integrated app, it is possible to personalize the program by providing information on sleep habits and lifestyle. The light intensity, timing, and duration of treatment vary based on the mode and purpose. Boost energy, optimize the sleep-wake cycle, beat jet lag and even adjust to a new time zone faster. There is some built-in flexibility in the timing of their use. The glasses are comfortable, with a sleek visor-like design that is unobtrusive. It is easy to charge the glasses by placing them in a pill-shaped pod that connects to a computer with a USB cable.

Luminette

For a lower price point, consider the light therapy glasses offered by Luminette. For $199 (purchase), or $39 (trial), similar technology is used to deliver the light therapy directly into the eyes. Unlike a lightbox, which may require 10,000 lux to be effective, the blue light directed into the eye accomplishes the same treatment with a lesser intensity. There are three intensity levels offered: 500, 1000, and 1500. The glasses themselves are larger, broadly situated above the eyes. It is recommended that they ar used for 30 minutes daily for best effect.

Re-Timer

Priced at $199, Re-Timer delivers blue-green light into the eyes for the purposes of phototherapy.

Designed to frame the eyes, these glasses were developed at a university based on 25 years of research. It is recommended that the glasses be used for 60 minutes daily, the longest recommended usage of the three models.

Conditions That Respond to Light

The circadian rhythms of the body are affected by exposure to blue light. This part of the light spectrum is present in full-spectrum sunlight. It can also be isolated and delivered at a lower intensity with equivalent effectiveness.

Certain conditions respond best to light therapy delivered via light glasses.

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—Also known as winter depression, SAD occurs seasonally when the lack of light availability leads to a deterioration of mood. It may be associated with increased sleeping, lack of initiative and social isolation, and changes in appetite and weight gain.
  • Insomnia—Difficulty falling asleep may be especially responsive to the use of phototherapy. Artificial light exposure in the evening may be a problem, but using light glasses in the morning upon awakening may help to realign the circadian rhythm.
  • Delayed sleep phase syndromeNight owls experience this condition that leads to both difficulty falling asleep at a conventional time as well as difficulty waking in the morning at an earlier time. Bedtimes may be at 2 a.m. or later and waking may occur mid-morning or even mid-day. Though the condition is not necessarily associated with insomnia, it can be when social pressures require sleep-wake timing that is not consistent with this genetic tendency.
  • Morning sleepiness—Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning due to sleepiness may be relieved with phototherapy. Light naturally wakes us. It initiates the circadian alerting signal. Consistent use in the morning may help to align sleep’s place to the darkness of the night.
  • Jet lag—In the modern age, jet travel allows a rapid misalignment of the body’s circadian rhythms to the patterns of light and darkness in the environment. It may take one day to adjust to each time zone crossed, but light therapy may make help the adjustment occur more quickly.

Cautions and Side Effects

Phototherapy is generally well tolerated. If it is bothersome, it should be discontinued. Any perceived side effects should resolve once the light glasses are no longer being used. In some cases, the following side effects may occur:

  • Headaches—Artificial light therapy may trigger headaches or migraines in those predisposed. In this case, a lower light intensity for a more prolonged period may be useful.
  • Insomnia—Light at the wrong time may lead to difficult sleeping. For example, using light glasses at bedtime may cause a shift in the timing of sleep later. This will make it hard to fall asleep, and hard to wake. Avoid this by following the instructions associated with the light glasses program.
  • Photophobia—Sensitivity to light may occur. This may lead to pain or simply an aversion to exposure characterized by squinting. It will go away when the light stimulus is removed.
  • Fatigue—Rarely, fatigue may occur with phototherapy. This may have to do with the changes that occur in the sleep-wake schedule. Following the directions of the program should help to minimize this risk.
  • Hypomania—For those who have a history of bipolar disorder, light therapy needs to be used with caution. There is a risk that the light may lead to a state of hypomania. This may be associated with an elevated mood, increased productivity, hypersexuality, or other symptoms.
  • Irritability—Although mood would typically improve with light therapy, in some cases it may lead to irritability. Like the other side effects, it should resolve by stopping the use of the light therapy glasses.

Importantly, there is no ultraviolet (UV) light exposure with the use of light therapy glasses. Therefore, the risks associated with this—such as damage to the eye or cancer—would not be present.

A Word From Verywell

If you are interested in learning more about your sleep, consider evaluation by a board-certified sleep physician. In some cases, consultation with this specialist may optimize your response to the light therapy glasses. Should you experience any problems with their use, seek further assistance by an expert.

Sources:

Peters, BR. “Irregular Bedtimes and Awakenings.” Evaluation of Sleep Complaints. Sleep Med Clinic. 9(2014)481-489.

Reid, KJ and Zee, PC. “Circadian disorders of the sleep-wake cycle,” in Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine. Edited by Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC. St. Louis, Missouri, Elsevier Saunders, 2011, pp. 470-482.