Does Red Light Aid Sleep?

Over the years, we have talked extensively about blue light and sleep. You might think blue light is the only colored light there is! But red light may also impact sleep in its own way.

A couple of years ago, we wrote a blog about how red light can help skin and some cancer treatments. There was a fringe idea that maybe it aided sleep, but no one was taking it seriously as anything beyond a way to aid scars and wound healing. There hadn’t been any research into it. We always like to present our customers with proven science and ensure they know what is backed by solid research, so we dismissed the claims with a “maybe.” Now scientists are paying attention and writing about it more, so we thought we would take a more in-depth look.

When we speak of colors of lights, we don’t mean a color we see. “The most important thing that influences and trains our circadian rhythms to 24 hours a day is light. And light has many, many different wavelengths,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Univ. of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “That’s why when we talk about blue light or red light, we’re not talking about a red-colored light bulb. It’s the wavelength of light.”  

Blue light suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone. It doesn’t just come from artificial sources; it is present in sunlight. That’s why getting daylight in the morning helps you sleep better at night, it wakes you up then so you can sleep better later. People have thought red light may aid sleep because it’s at the other end of the spectrum. If blue light suppresses melatonin, they thought red light might push it into the body.

Newer studies haven’t shown that it does that. Sometimes a study that shows a negative is important. It’s still information!

The only thing that you could argue is that what it’s doing is, if you give that red light in the evening prior to sleep, you’re minimizing the disruption of the circadian system, because disruption of the circadian system occurs with bright or blue light,” said Mariana Figueiro, director of the Mount Sinai Light and Health Research Center. “That may be what leads to better sleep.”

Despite what some have suggested, sleeping in a dark room is far more conducive to deep sleep than having a red light night light. However, if you are going to have a nightlight, having a red light is better than other types of light as it is less disruptive.

While looking for information about red light and sleep, we came across many sources citing a study that showed that red light aided sleep. Only 20 women were in the study. That is the most frequently cited study, but it seems like weak evidence. And many articles that espouse the virtues of red light are selling red light emitters.

The last time red light came up, we said, “maybe” it helped sleep. Now we’re giving it a more solid “probably not.” It can be seen as helping sleep as it doesn’t harm it as much as other forms of light. If you will be exposed to light at night, go for red light. But don’t expect a better night’s sleep because of it.  

Banner image: Salah Ait Mokhtar via Unsplash

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