We tested whether red light therapy really helps you sleep

Light plays a key role in our internal clocks, and doctors have theorized for years that red light therapy can help you sleep. Red light can stimulate the production of melatonin — the naturally occurring hormone that helps you sleep.

If you don’t think light is that influential, think about how often you stay awake way later than you anticipated because you were scrolling on your phone. Blue light actually stops your brain from producing melatonin, so while it’s good in small doses throughout the day, checking your phone or laptop before bed can negatively impact your sleep cycle.

To see how helpful red light actually is, In The Know’s Phoebe Zaslav conducted a week-long experiment to see if red light would help her sleep.

“Our world is filled with all different sources of artificial light that can throw us off our natural sleep cycle, like the blue light most of us are exposed to on the daily from our phones, computers and TV screens,” Phoebe explained. “For five nights I switched my regular light bulbs to red light bulbs for 30 minutes before bed.”

For 30 minutes before bed, Phoebe also tried not to look at her phone, a TV or anything that emits blue light.

“A lot of red light therapy lights can be a super huge contraption and can cost tons of money, but I decided to do this with individual light bulbs that emit red light wavelengths,” she said. “Not to be confused with red-tinted light bulbs, which can also be soothing, but wouldn’t have the same chemical effect on your body.”

For a week, Phoebe recorded herself waking up in the morning to see if she really did feel a difference.

“My overall conclusion is that I probably would have seen more jarring results if I did this experiment for, maybe, a longer period of time,” she said. “To be completely honest, while I did enjoy it, it was hard for me.”

For one thing, Phoebe had a different schedule every day — a factor she thought might have impacted her results. Still, she enjoyed the pressure to put her phone away before bed.

“I definitely noticed a difference in how relaxed I was when drifting off to sleep and feeling super disconnected and winded down,” she said. “It forced me to read, journal and meditate — which is always on my checklist and I never actually do it.”

Overall, Phoebe didn’t think this could be a permanent change to her nightly routine. But, if you’re looking for a natural way to improve your sleep, this could be a great option.

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If you liked this story, check out other Doing Well episodes here.

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