Blue Light May Help Alzheimer’s Patients Sleep

As children we used night lights to scare away “monsters,” as adults we use them to find our way in the night, and now, Alzheimer’s patients may use a specific type of night light to reset their internal clocks in order to sleep better.Blue Light May Help Alzheimer's Patients Sleep

Alzheimer’s Resets the Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm is an internal biological clock that sets our sleep patterns. Many Alzheimer’s patients have a disrupted circadian rhythm so their sleep cycle is off, leaving them awake at night and sleepy during the day.

Dr. Guerman Ermolenko, a geriatric psychiatrist, and Mariana Figueiro, from the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, have been working together to examine the effects of blue light therapy on Alzheimer’s patients. They believe that lights with a bluish tint, used during the day, can help regulate the circadian rhythm.

The blue light tells the circadian rhythm to “wake up,” thus regulating an internal clock and helping people with Alzheimer’s stay awake during the day and sleep better at night. Researchers believe the blue light simulates the blue of the sky, triggering the wake up call. Using blue lights during the day may also increase melatonin at night, increasing quality and quantity of sleep.

How Blue Light May Help Alzheimer’s Patients

To examine the effects of blue lights on Alzheimer’s patients, Ermolenko and Figueiro placed a table that radiates a blue light in the Albany County Nursing Home. Two of the women who were not sleeping at night sat at the table during the day and are now sleeping through the night. It is important to note that the blue light has also been found to be too stimulating for some Alzheimer’s patients, who have to decrease the amount of blue light and increase the amount of yellow light in a room.

Previous light therapy studies on Alzheimer’s have also shown mixed results. One recent study showed that light therapy could improve sleep efficiency in some Alzheimer’s patients, but not all.

The researchers hope to expand their study by putting blue light lamps in the rooms of patients during the day. They also hope their findings translate to architects and builders, so that lighting can be an important consideration of the building process of senior communities.

Have you tried blue light therapy to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below. 

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Edward Carome

    I believe you are confusing the matter and possibly everyone. I don’t believe Dr. Figueiro is recommending that blue night lights be used by anyone during the night. Since blue light suppresses melatonin production by the pineal gland, blue light is meant to be used when one wants to be awake. It “tells” the internal clock that it’s daytime. After dark before going to bed and/or when one wakes up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, one should avoid exposing the eyes to blue light and, therefore, use amber or yellow nightlights. You should contact Dr. Figueiro to have her clarify this matter, and publish a new blog to correct what you have told your readers.

    • crabjack

      You’re right, Edward. Blue light should be used in the evening to prepare for sleeping, since blue light mimics the evening light better than white light. A full spectrum white light will yield better results at other times. See http://www.best-alzheimers-products.com/light-therapy-for-alzheimers.html

      • Audrey Fischer

        Blue light should NEVER be used in the evening to prepare for sleeping.
        Blue light DOES NOT mimic evening lighting. Blue light mimics daylight lighting. Dim red or dim amber mimics evening lighting.
        Blue light at night is useful for people who must remain ALERT at night, for example, astronauts, shift workers, etc. Follow the work of Drs George Brainard, Richard Stevens, David E Blask.

    • Emily May

      I agree with you, Edward Carome! The article didn’t seem to make sense to me. But, what I thought it was saying was….use blue light during the day to promote good sleep at night. Waking at night can be a huge problem for spouses who must figure out how to get their spouse back to bed, instead of allowing the patient to roam around at night due to lack of sleep. This causes the spouse to lose sleep themselves. I hope that this will be clarified in a future blog or article.

    • Freda Lippert Thyden

      The blue lights is a “day light” rather than a “nite light”.

  • Flo

    my sister with alzheimers rather sleep without light in her room she has a bathroom in her room and i do have a dim night light to wish she even closes her bath room door half way -even in the message above it is stated blue light tells them to wake up not what we want at night -so i would have to agree with Mr.Carome.

  • Emily

    Interesting as I keep a blue night light on in the bathroom for mom cause her eyes are so sensitive, here I thought it would be better for her as she’s up 3 or 4x a night. Guess the blue night needs to go!

  • Audrey Fischer

    This is total backwards! and potentially harmful! Blue light is essential during the DAYTIME, and will increase the human body to naturally produce melatonin at NIGHT, but only if the person is sleeping in a dark, cool room with ZERO BLUE LIGHT. Since, white light includes the blue spectrum, this means only dim amber or dim red light should be used in the bedroom, hallway, bathroom, etc if needed. Ideally, positioned low to the floor and on motion-activated systems. Turn off ANYTHING with blue light at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. This means no TV, computers, iphones, etc 1-2 hours before bed. This means use room-darkening curtains if streetlights trespass into your windows. If you can see your hand in front of your face, the room has too much light (unless it is dim amber or dim red). You are trying to mimic nature as best as possible. Blue skies during the day, darkness at night. Over millions of years, life evolved with a circadian rhythm, and cannot adjust to the exponential increase of light at night with color TV, computers, increased streetlights, etc which shine into our bedrooms of the last 50 years. Btw, you do not need to be sleeping to produce melatonin — only lie quietly in a very dark room. Only your eyes need to be in the dark, as the detectors are in the ganglionic cell layer of the retina. Sleeping masks are effective, (if you don’t take them off during your sleep). Maximum melatonin occurs between 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM. Every bit of blue light 1-2 hours before bedtime will delay the onset of melatonin production, and cheat you. Melatonin supplements are helpful for the body that cannot produce enough melatonin naturally, but natural production should be the goal. Try to sleep at 10PM and wake at 6AM– every day. Shift work is a known type-2 carcinogen, however, many people put themselves into the same conditions by using TVs and computers and socializing late at night. On another subject, coconut oil and ketogenic diet can be helpful to reduce cancer and alzheimers risk.

    • caitlinburm

      Hi Audrey,

      Thank you for sharing such helpful information with us. We will be sure to look into your suggestions about blue light and red light for Alzheimer’s disease when publishing this type of content in the future.

  • Sharon

    I just read the article and then was surprised by the comments. I feel the article clearly stated that the blue light was to be used during the day to promote a better wake cycle and, thus, a better sleep cycle at night. I felt it was very clear.

    • caitlinburm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Sharon! We appreciate you reading our blog content.

  • reader

    The headline is a huge problem. Many people will assume that blue lights help people sleep AT NIGHT.

    • caitlinburm

      Thank you for sharing your feedback with us about the blog article’s headline. We hope that readers will go beyond the headline to read the article, but appreciate your suggestions and will keep them in mind when publishing this type of content in the future.

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