Blinking light therapy could help "early awakening insomnia"

Blinking light therapy could help "early awakening insomnia"
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About 15 percent of people aged 65 and older go to sleep too early in the evening and find themselves awake early in the morning. It's called "early awakening insomnia." It gets in the way of having a social life.

However, a new treatment could help in the future.

Grad student Erin Ryan is wearing goggles with a blinking blue light. You might think it would be annoying, but Ryan says it's like a relaxing day at the beach.

"It was kind of nice like laying on the beach with some warm sun in your face when it was on," she said.

Ryan is participating in a study at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

They're comfortable, too. That's important because the goggles are geared to help insomnia patients catch up on sleep.

The device is geared for seniors whose sleep has become disordered. They fall asleep too early, like 7:00 pm and find themselves awake at 3:00 am.

Why this happens is three-fold - aging, an inability for the body to effectively absorb light, and not spending enough time out of doors. Taken together and you have a shortage of exposure to blue light during the day.

"If you want to delay your bedtime you need this type of light in the evening hours," said Mariana Figueiro, Ph.D.

Figueiro, a sleep researcher, says not getting enough blue light affects melatonin levels. Melatonin helps us fall asleep. The goggles deliver the right color light.

"This fools the brain, it depends on the timing you get it, stretching daytime a little bit longer in the evening," said Figueiro.

Study participants sign on for six weeks.

"So we're giving people enough light that it will go through your eyelid and then it will have an effect on the melatonin level. And that flashes every 30 seconds and you're gonna wear it about 2 to 3 hours every night," she said.

Saliva will be tested for melatonin levels during the first week of treatment and the two weeks off treatment.

When the cycle is repeated, the light will flash red. That helps with another chemical, cortisol - which helps us transition from sleep to wakefulness in the morning hours.

"So what we're very interesting in you get all the different biomarkers to do the right thing at the right time," said Figueiro.

Call Barbara Plitnick, RN at 518-687-7166 for more information on the study.