How Light Therapy Glasses Improve Sleep and Mood

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.

Man stretching in the morning
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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 with the natural patterns of light and darkness. This misalignment may impact your ability to sleep, interfere with the release of hormones including melatonin, and cause fluctuations in your 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, which can be delivered in a couple of different ways.

Light Boxes vs. Light Glasses

Historically, lightboxes 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: These glasses have a well-integrated app, making it 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. They might be used to 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. Similar technology to a lightbox is used to deliver 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. The glasses themselves are larger, broadly situated above the eyes. It is recommended that they are used for 30 minutes daily for the best effect.

Re-Timer: 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, which is 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 can improve with 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: Artificial light exposure in the evening can make it difficult to fall asleep, so it should be avoided. And using light glasses in the morning upon awakening may help to realign the circadian rhythm.
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome: Night 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 to the darkness of the night.
  • Jet lag: In the modern age, jet travel can cause a rapid misalignment between the body’s circadian rhythms and 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 help make the adjustment occur more quickly. Light therapy glasses often list this as one use. However, note that this use is not backed by strong research evidence, as a review of studies did not find significant effects.

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 difficulty 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 nervousness, an elevated mood, difficulty focusing, 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 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 having problems with 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.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.