When we sit down to study, how we are feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically can greatly alter the effectiveness of what comes next. 

The act of studying itself can cause us to enter a more stressed state, causing our heart rate and blood pressure to go up, our focus to drop, and our anxiety to increase. It can be a self-perpetuating vicious cycle that’s hard to break. And if we’re already stressed out from other life factors, the weight of it all can have a negative impact on our ability to learn.

Light therapy is a tool that can help us fight off some of those stress factors and improve our state of mind, mood, and even our physical health. In turn, our mental focus and brain health will be much better suited to engage in a learning environment.

Light therapy and its correlation with our circadian rhythm

Many people think that the concept of light therapy is mostly used to address depression. Perhaps you know someone who uses sun lamps to fight off winter blues during the short days and long nights of winter. While sun lamps are great, they are not the only good option for practicing light therapy.

Drawing of the side view of a person showing their brain with blue, green, yellow and red light rays shining towards them.
Light therapy can be used to treat more than seasonal depression.

Using different kinds of light strategically can have a positive impact on the following:   

  • Concentration
  •     Mental stress
  •     Fatigue
  •     Headaches and migraines
  •     Eyestrain
  •     Inflammation
  •     Behavioral and mood disorders
  •     Learning disabilities

Light therapy is all about getting familiar with your circadian rhythm. The National Institute for General Medical Sciences describes circadian rhythm as “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.”

Take note of the three key areas – physical, mental, and behavioral. This means that light is directly correlated to how we function and feel on a day-to-day basis. It can be the reason we wake up feeling drained or energetic, and it can be the reason we’re in a good or bad mood.

The impact of behavior, environment, and lifestyle

Your habits and lifestyle can help determine how much light therapy could be incorporated into your daily or weekly routine. Lifestyle factors like the types of stress you are navigating, how much time you spend outdoors, your nutrition intake, and your exposure levels of blue light can help you determine where light therapy can make a positive impact.

Here are a few scenarios where people who could benefit from light therapy might be experiencing. 

Academic stress

Students face a distinct challenge with academic stress. It’s a stress born out of a continuous state of social and self-imposed pressure to perform at high levels. It depletes our psychological reserves and pushes us beyond the normal challenges of everyday life. 

Research has shown that being under the pressure of academic stress can cause a higher likelihood of developing mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression. Those higher levels of stress can be associated with everything from poor sleep to substance abuse. 

Finding ways to improve your mood, boost your confidence, and practicing intentional stress-relieving activities are key to navigating academic stress.

Brain fog from improper nutrition

Vitamin D deficiency can also be a main contributor to negative mental health outcomes such as depression and fatigue. It’s estimated that one in every three Americans is deficient in Vitamin D. Why does this matter? Because our bodies need it to function effectively.

Vitamin D maintains the balance of calcium and phosphorus in your body to build bones and support healthy tissues. Without it, our bodies can develop conditions like hypocalcemia and hyperparathyroidism which can lead to muscle weakness and cramps, fatigue, and depression.  

Sleep or health suffering from too much blue light

An overexposure to blue light is another way we can accidentally cause negative physical and mental outcomes. While blue light itself isn’t actually that harmful, it’s the amount and way we use it that can be harmful.

Artificial blue light – most commonly found in fluorescent lights, LED TVs, computer monitors, and smartphones – has the largest potential for overexposure. Constant exposure can cause dry eyes and eye strain, and eye strain can cause headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain.  

“Exposure to blue light before bedtime also can disrupt sleep patterns as it affects when our bodies create melatonin. Interruption of the circadian system plays a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleep disorders, and cognitive dysfunctions,” according to UC Davis.

While many of us can’t significantly alter our blue light exposure (hi, computers), there are ways we can reduce it’s impact.  

4 Types of light therapy to try

Once you’ve had a chance to take a step back to look at some areas in your life that might be a source of anxiety, stress, or physical ailment, introducing a light therapy routine could be a helpful step in building a plan to make improvements. 

Here are a few therapeutic types of light that are worth exploring. 

1. Red light therapy – Builds better brain function & improves energy and mood

Red light therapy (RLT) is an emerging treatment that has gained popularity in treating skin care related concerns like wrinkles, acne, and other signs of aging. However, it is also garnering attention for its potential positive impacts on brain health and brain function. While the research is still in its infancy, RLT is currently being studied as a way to prevent brain-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

Using a non-invasive light treatment, a narrow spectrum of red and near-infrared light wavelengths can actually be absorbed into brain tissue. Research has shown that red light wavelengths can penetrate human skin anywhere from 5mm to 2 inches deep.

“When red and near-infrared light is absorbed by your cells, it stimulates your mitochondria to function more efficiently. When your body’s mitochondria function efficiently, this leads to a host of health benefits including improved immunity, mood, energy levels, and, most importantly, brain function.” –Vital Red Light

To start tapping into RLT at home, all you need is a red light device. There are many options now available in the consumer market in part thanks to its growing popularity in skincare. The recommended daily exposure can range from 10-30 minutes depending on the intensity of the light. Always read the instructions before use to ensure you are not overexposing yourself.

2. Green light therapy – Mitigates headache and migraine pain

Migraines are an increasingly common ailment for many Americans. It’s estimated that nearly one in four U.S. households includes someone with a migraine.  

Pain specialists at the University of Arizona Health Sciences recently conducted a study using green light therapy on people with chronic migraines. The lead author of the study, Dr. Ibrahim, describes how the light was applied. 

“In this trial, we treated green light as a drug. It’s not any green light; it has to be the right intensity, the right frequency, the right exposure time and the right exposure methods. Just like with medications, there is a sweet spot with light,” Dr. Ibrahim said.

Using a numeric pain scale of 0 to 10, participants noted that green light exposure resulted in a 60% reduction in pain, from 8 to 3.2. It also shortened the duration of headaches, and improved participants’ ability to fall and stay asleep, perform chores, exercise, and work. On top of all that success, none of the study participants reported any negative side effects of green light exposure.  

Using green light to address migraine pain has been a theory explored for nearly a decade now. Researchers at Harvard Medical School also concluded similar outcomes from a study in 2016.

While green light therapy devices are not as commonly available as red light quite yet, there are options in the consumer market for devices displaying green light. You may have to find solutions like a green light bulb or green glasses instead of a dedicated green light device.

3. Blue light blockers – Improve your sleep, confidence, and mood

We touched on the impacts of overexposure to blue light earlier in this article. Too much exposure can lead to poor sleep, an interrupted circadian rhythm, and even lead to more advanced health concerns like sleep disorders and cognitive dysfunctions.

 When we’re not well rested, our mood and energy levels are deeply impacted. This can cause emotional swings and even lower our confidence. Studies have shown that lower levels of sleep have a direct correlation to lower levels of self-confidence.

 The artificial blue light emitted from many of the screen-based electronics we use today is luckily one of the easiest forms of light for us to avoid. The popularity of ‘blue light glasses’ has grown in recent years with more people recommending them to friends and family who are on screens all day. They are an easy and simple way to filter out blue light from hitting your eyes.

4. Sun lamp therapy – Old fashioned sunshine is good for our souls

While the other light therapy methods can be the right solution for some, we can’t forget the biggest and brightest light we all have to work with – the sun. The power of the sun to improve our mood, attitude, and health has been documented and suggested by experts for decades, if not centuries. 

If getting outside into the sun isn’t possible due to weather or personal limitations, sun lamps are widely available as an alternative solution. When shopping for one, pay attention to the level of ‘lux’ it has. Lux is a term used to measure units of illuminance, or how bright things are. To get a feel for how lux is measured, here’s a scale:   

  •     50 lux – living room light
  •     100 – very dark, overcast day
  •     320-500 – office lighting
  •     400 – sunrise or sunset on a clear day
  •     1,000 – overcast day
  •     10,000 – 25,000 – full daylight
  •     30,000 – 100,000 – direct sunlight

For a personal sunlamp to use at home, aim for a 10,000-lux range. Just like with red light therapy, read the instructions for the individual device to ensure you practice safe handling and use.

Find what works for you 

Tapping into the power of light to change our mood, attitude, health, and mental efficiency can be a powerful tool when practiced safely and intentionally. The beautiful thing about light therapy is that it can be a fun and educational journey. We hope you find something that works for you!