Light Therapy for Teachers
I've decided to shed a little light on the topic of phototherapy, otherwise knowns as light therapy as it pertains to shift work and synchronizing sleep schedules. As always I am not a doctor, this information is for research and general information purposes and is not intended to diagnose or treat and medical conditions.
What is light therapy?
Light therapy involves exposure to intense levels of light under controlled conditions.A person uses a commercially available device, sometimes known as a light box. This device is designed to emit light at a certain intensity and wavelength to mimic the sun.
As I have discussed before light syncs our circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin.
Light therapy has been used to treat many types of disorders, most commonly it is used to treat S.A.D. (seasonally affective disorder)
Can it help teachers shift their clocks and get better sleep?
It is my opinion after reading the research that light therapy can be an effective adjunct to improving sleep hygiene in teachers. If used at appropriate times it can push back or move up sleep/wake cycles.
When Do I use it?
This is very important and it depends on when you sleep. I understand that teachers have all different types of sleep schedules but there should really be two main types. Either you sleep before your shift or after, hopefully not during am I right? I've done that before and gotten the dreaded teacher no show.
So either you go to sleep in the mornings and afternoons or you sleep in the late afternoons and evenings. Those are our choices and they are going to look something like this:
The timing of the light therapy will differ depending on your schedule.
Before work sleepers: If you sleep in the late afternoons and early evening it would be best for you to use the light late in your shift or in the morning. You would start using it around the time the sun comes up.
After work sleepers: You want to use the light early in your shift. Within first two hours of waking up. Because overnighters often end their shifts after the sun has already risen, you need to be careful not to expose yourself to natural daylight in the morning. This is where sunglasses or special glasses that block blue light can come into play. Avoid early light.
Remember to stay consistent with both sleep timing and light therapy usage.
How to use:
Each device will have it's own instructions but typically these lights are placed 10-24 inches from the use and tilted at an angle.
Treatment consists simply of sitting close to the light box, with lights on and eyes open. Looking at the lights is not recommended; rather, people are free to engage in such activities as reading and writing, or eating meals.
The light is left one for bouts of 15-30 minutes.
Are they safe:
They appear to be pretty safe. They are not regulated by the FDA and do not require a prescription. Side effects have been minimal. While a small minority of patients experience headaches, eyestrain/irritation, or nausea at the beginning of treatment, these are usually mild and abate after a few days.
Talk to your doctor if you have any medical condition, but especially if you currently have or ever had a retinal pathology.
Talk to your doctor if you are on any medications.
They do not emit UV light and do not produce significant heat (like a tablet)
Light Boxes do NOT provide vitamin D and other nutrients
My classroom lights are bright isn't that the same?
No it's not, these therapy lights are more intense (10,000 lux) compared to an office bulb (150-500 lux) and they should concentrate more on the blue light spectrum.
I have a wake up light that does the same thing.
These lights are meant to naturally and gradually wake you from slumber in a way that mimics the rising of the sun. It's a gentle way to rouse you in the morning as opposed to a noxious alarm. The theory is that instead of triggering a fight or flight type response, the wake/sleep is more of a gradual process.
These lights do not produce light in the same intensity as a therapy light and are not the same thing. You can use both modalities, they are different.
What light should I get?
I don't research products very often, the technology has come a long ways and they have become more and more affordable. Do some research first, make sure that the light you get is at least 10,000 lux and blocks UV light.