Insomnia. Yeah, I've lived it. Tossing and turning till the wee hours of the morning. Or, drifting off just fine only to startle awake a few hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Then there were those waking nightmares where I'd run around the house ranting about this or that, with no memory of it by morning. And my absolute worst: night terrors and sleep paralysis so jarring that I thought I was having seizures. Clearly my brain signals were set to haywire at night and I was on the verge of full blown Narcolepsy. By day my short term memory grew terrifyingly short and my blood pressure dropped to 52 over 80. Something had to give.
So I did what people usually do in these situations. I saw a doctor. And she did what doctors usually do in these situations. She prescribed Ambien. I was a zombie on Ambien. Another dead end. Doctors couldn't help me and I knew it. I could only help myself. For weeks I immersed in journal abstracts, determined to solve this medical mystery myself.
I uncovered information about Circadian Rhythm Disorders, a cluster of conditions that stem from a person's body clock being off kilter. This can be triggered by medication, work schedule, change in routine, ADHD and other neurological conditions, or by predisposing genetic mutations (clock gene polymorphisms). You can also blame it on blue light frequencies emitted from indoor lighting and those television screens and computers that we stare at all night. This frequency signals to our brains that it is still daytime, thus suppressing the production of melatonin, a critical sleep hormone.
The key to regulating Circadian Rhythms, and thus melatonin, is exposure to appropriate dark and light cycles. Our eyes need a certain amount light exposure during the day to properly regulate our sleep, mood, and hormones. Yet, modern life hides us inside buildings all day where the light exposure is equivalent to twilight. Then at night, when from a circadian perspective we should be winding down our light exposure, we stare at back-lit screens. No wonder our bodies have days and nights mixed up! Not to mention, prolonged sleep deprivation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Not good. At all.
But alas, I did indeed find a solution to my dilemma in the medical journals. It is called Light Box Therapy and Blue Blocker Glasses. This system resets my circadian rhythms by exposing me daily to light when I most need light and by blocking blue light frequencies when exposure to them would disrupt my circadian rhythms.
LIGHT BOX TREATMENT
What was once thought of as only a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder is now being researched for a range of conditions from insomnia, ADHD, Bipolar, Dementia, skin disorders, epilepsy, general depression, and fatigue.
This is the light box I use for insomnia.
I sit in front of this for 30 minutes every morning immediately upon waking up at 6:00 a.m. This signals to my body that it is morning, thus keeping my circadian rhythms on track for a 10:30 p.m. - 6:00 a.m. sleep cycle. I also use this for 20 minutes in mid-afternoon whenever I can.
Though I love my light, in retrospect I wish I'd bought one that functions more like a reading lamp.
That way I could do other things like read or use my computer rather than just stare into it.
If I miss a day of light my sleep is usually disrupted for two days since that's how long it takes to reset a circadian cycle.
There are many light boxes on the market and not all are created equal. I chose the Nature Bright Sun Touch because it met all the specifications for an adequate light box (10,000 Lux and UVA/UVB protection), the great price, and its many great reviews on Amazon. Plus, it's made in the USA. Here is an excellent website for light box reviews.
Increased energy level
Nice mood boost
I'm alert as soon as the alarm goes off. No desire to hit snooze anymore.
Sitting in one spot for 1/2 hour.
BLUE BLOCKER GLASSES
I wear these Blue Blocker Glasses after 7:00 p.m. every night to block the blue light frequencies from indoor lighting, my computer, and the television screen. This enables me to still use those devices without disrupting my circadian rhythms.
I chose this brand for the price and because they wrap all the way around. Blue Blockers can be found anywhere from $5 - $100.
It takes two days of wearing these before a noticeable effect on sleep.
-I have to wear these out at night, which makes me look shifty. This might be more of a problem if I were younger, had an active social life, and cared what people think. But at this point in my life I'd rather be able to sleep. I've read they make blue blocker contacts. That's something I will look into.
-If I skip wearing them one night it takes two days to catch up again.
This article discusses my experience with my Light Box and Blue Blocker glasses, but it does not go into deep scientific detail on how and why they work. I have linked a host of scientific articles and study abstracts at the bottom. Also, here is an excellent book by a doctor from Columbia University's sleep clinic that goes into this subject in great detail. I am just sharing information. Nothing here should be construed as medical advice.
Book version Kindle version
With that said, I wonder why most doctors choose not to prescribe this system to their patients with insomnia?
How I Beat Severe Insomnia (Part II): Hypnosis
NY Times: A Portable Glow to Help Melt Those Winter Blues
Blue-Blocking Glasses to Improve Sleep and ADHD Symptoms Developed
IPAD Insomnia - CNN
Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial.
The Use of Bright Light in the Treatment of Insomnia
A controlled trial of light therapy for the treatment of pediatric seasonal affective disorder.
Dawn Simulation for Abstinent Alcoholics With Winter Depression
A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavior therapy plus bright light therapy for adolescent delayed sleep phase disorder.
Alleviation of sleep maintenance insomnia with timed exposure to bright light exposure to bright light.
Bright light therapy as an add on treatment for medically intractable epilepsy.
Bright light therapy for symptoms of anxiety and depression in focal epilepsy: randomized controlled trial
Light therapy as a treatment for epilepsy
Controlled trial of bright light and negative air ions for chronic depression.
Twenty minutes versus forty-five minutes morning bright light treatment on sleep onset insomnia in elderly subjects.
Helpful website on this subject:
Center for Environmental Therapeutics
*This is not a sponsored post. Any profits earned from my Amazon.com affiliate links will be donated to Kiva, a not-for-profit micro-lending organization that makes no interest business loans to low income entrepreneurs in the developing world and in the United States.
This post is linked to Frugally Sustainable, Natural Living Momma, and
Tags: Insomnia, Narcolepsy, Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, Chronotherapy, Light Box Therapy for insomnia, SAD Lights, Blue Blocker Glasses and insomnia.