One of the most common complaints from Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS patients is the fact that we can’t sleep normally. We tend to have disrupted sleep and we also find that we want to sleep when we should be awake and we want to be awake when we should be sleeping – like at 2 a.m.
The body’s circadian rhythm, which is controlled by the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, is what determines our sleep patterns and allows our bodies to rest,fuel up our bodies’ energy, and heals the body. But in FM & ME/CFS patients, the circadian rhythm doesn’t work properly and we sleep fewer hours and fewer restful hours than healthy people.
How do our bodies prepare for sleep?
- The natural dimming of sunset triggers our bodies to produce melatonin which causes drowsiness and sleep.
- Increasing sunrise light instructs the body to stop the production of melatonin and thus a wakeful, energized feeling ensues.
- Ordinary indoor lighting, indoor living, late night studying, shift work can disrupt the natural signals – making it more difficult to enjoy a good nights sleep, which is critical to good health and vitality.
ME/CFS and FM patients need help getting our bodies to follow what should be the natural process of preparing for sleep and sleeping by using medications and other therapies. Studies show that dawn-dusk simulators can help to maintain the natural sleep cycle which will overall help reduce symptoms in ME/CFS & FM patients and will provide better health.
The type of dawn-dusk simulation which NASA tested and now uses to regulate astronauts’ sleep patterns uses a “narrow” wavelength of the blue light spectrum (460nm) to naturally help re-set ones internal clock.
The type of dusk dawn simulation, also known as the TwiLight System, if used early in the evening for 30 – 60 minutes can help you to stay up a little later at night but keep you from waking up throughout the night. This helps to delay the production of pineal melatonin and it will keep you more alert in the evening hours. Using the blue light in this manner tends to help people who are getting older, as they tend to wake up more during the night.
For FM & ME/CFS patients, we need to use the blue light first thing in the morning to help energize and get us awake but to promote sleep earlier at night.
What is it about blue light that is so beneficial?
A specialized subset of light-sensitive cells in the retina of the eye which are thought to have nothing to do with vision boast extensions that reach deep into the brain to the hypothalamus, the location of the bodys internal clock, according to research conducted at Harvard Medical School. These specialized cells appear to convert perception of blue light from the spectrum of natural summer daylight into chemicals such as melatonin (produced by the pineal gland), which change the brains clock settings and support alertness.
But winter sunlight in most latitudes, and indoor lighting, do not deliver this short wavelength blue light hence the benefit of blue light therapy. For more information on Harvards dawn-dusk simulation research using blue light, see the report When light has you singing the blues: Blue light resets body rhythms for sounder sleep, higher alertness, from the Harvard Gazette.
There are some precautions that should be taken when using blue light. People who are at risk of having, or who do have, retinal conditions (glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal detachment, diabetes) be tested prior to using any type of light therapy. Researchers have found that additional harm may be caused for these patients.