Can Bright Light Therapy Help Fatigued Cancer Patients?
Cancer is a disease no one wants to deal with. It’s full of uncertainty, and treatment can leave you feeling worse than you did before.
One of the most common side effects of treatment for cancer is insomnia and fatigue. You’re tired, but you can’t sleep, which makes you even more tired. Sometimes, it can seem as if sleep is an impossible dream, something you think about while scrolling through Netflix at 2 a.m.
Recent studies, however, have shown that bright light therapy may be effective in helping fatigued cancer patients get more sleep and better sleep than those who do not employ bright light therapy.
What Is Bright Light Therapy?
Bright light therapy is the practice of sitting beneath an artificial sunlight lamp – of 10,000 Lux or more – for about 30 minutes each morning. You want to try sitting under the light as close to the time you wake up as possible, to mimic the bright morning light, so drinking coffee, reading the paper, or checking your email during this time can help you feel more productive.
Your brain produces neurotransmitters in response to bright light, namely serotonin and endorphins. These neurotransmitters regulate your body’s natural sleep and wake cycle, so you feel less sleepy during the day and are more ready to sleep well at night.
When you sit under a bright light therapy box, the light enters your retinas and signals your brain to produce more serotonin and endorphins. You won’t feel the effects of bright light therapy right away, but with regular practice over the course of a few weeks, you should see your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep improve, as well as your daytime wakefulness.
Does Bright Light Therapy Actually Work for Cancer Patients?
In a pilot study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in early 2018, researchers tested the effects of bright light therapy on sleep in a mixed group of 44 cancer patients and survivors.
Half the group received bright light therapy for 30 minutes per day, every day for four weeks. The other half underwent dim red light conditioning for the same period of time. In pre-testing interviews, more than half the participants reported poor sleep efficiency and quality.
By the end of the study, 86 percent of those who underwent bright light therapy reported normal sleep efficiency. Of those who experienced dim red light conditioning, 79 percent reported poor sleep efficiency at the end of the study.
After the study finished, participants were interviewed after three weeks without any light therapy. At this point, the positive effects of the bright light therapy had diminished, and there were virtually no differences in sleep efficiency between the participants who had undergone bright light therapy or dim light conditioning.
Bright light therapy has shown to improve sleep in patients with a number of conditions, including fatigue brought on by cancer treatment. Adding this small extra habit to your life could mean the world of difference between a restful night’s sleep and another night watching the clock.
As always, consult with your doctor before adding bright light therapy into your daily routine.
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