Help me see the light
January 4, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I have frequent trouble sleeping. Tim Ferriss has raved about the Philips goLITE. Tell me more about light therapy for sleeping disorders.

Since I was little I have had trouble sleeping. I'll feel tired but once my head hits the pillow I can't seem to turn my mind off.

Tim Ferriss's new book Four Hour Body has a section devoted to sleep improvement. His biggest recommendation is the Philips goLITE. I guess the premise is that this bright blue light recalibrates one's circadian rhythms. Or something like that. It sounds like a placebo to me but I am willing to try anything. The major thing holding me back is the cost of the unit. List price is $200. Is this bunk?
posted by prunes to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tim Ferriss is not a doctor. His medical advice is worthless.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:50 AM on January 4, 2011

He recommended the device as something that had worked for him personally. Only a fool would construe that as medical advice. I am asking here whether people can share their experiences and also discuss whether the science/theory behind this therapy makes sense.
posted by prunes at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2011

I would check out Gayle Greene's book Insomniac before spending $200 on that thing. There are many, many reasons people have trouble sleeping. You may be able to identify something else going on that doesn't a couple hundred bucks to fix.
posted by something something at 8:02 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I have a Phillips goLITE and I've never slept better than when I use it. It seems to reset my circadian rhythm and tell my body "you fool, you actually need to sleep at some point!"

Then again, I've been diagnosed with depression and that is what I use it for. The circadian rhythm thing is just a wonderful side benefit.
posted by saveyoursanity at 8:22 AM on January 4, 2011

I tried using a blue light therapy visor for awhile to help with depression. It didn't seem to work for me at all, and the light hurt my eyes and gave me a headache. Also I found it to be a huge pain in the ass... I bought the visor so I could do something besides just sit for half an hour, but the blue light made it difficult to see to do anything at all, whether trying to do chores, exercise or even just sit at the computer and surf.

I've read good things about "dawn simulator" alarm clocks that wake you up with gradually brightening light and supposedly help reset your circadian rhythm or something. Some of them also have a "dusk simulator" that is supposed to help you get to sleep as well. They are cheaper than some other light therapy devices, so that might be something to look into.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty much in the same boat as saveyoursanity: we recently bought that exact model and we are happy happier with it. Not based on Tim Ferriss' recommendation (which would have turned me off too) but on the anecdotes of friends and on evidence like this meta-analysis (for depression, discarding the large number of bad studies in this area). We considered the cheaper model that doesn't have the digital display, but went with the one you linked specifically because it could be used as an alarm clock; it may also have more levels of brightness control (the other one has 3 levels; this one's display shows 8 bars but I'm not sure whether it actually increments 1 bar at a time).

Another meta-analysis finds that there is still insufficient evidence to demonstrate that light therapy does anything more than shrink your pupils. Insufficient evidence means that placebo could certainly be a factor for all of us light-pushers. I personally don't mind being on a placebo if the effect is strong enough.

I don't have sleep problems so I can't give you much in the way of sleep anecdotes, but since I've been using it in the mornings, I've been waking up earlier and getting to sleep faster. My wife does have sleep problems and from where I lie I haven't noticed significant improvements for her but she doesn't use it as consistently nor as early as I do — and she's still happy with it overall for mood reasons. This morning I realized with some disappointment that I'll have to leave it with her next week when I go on a work trip.
posted by xueexueg at 1:21 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used a lightbox for depression for a number of years and have found it very helpful in that regard, but I have no experience with light therapy for insomnia specifically.

Like Tim Ferriss, I'm not a doctor. I'm just somebody who's spent most of her life dealing with at-times suicidal depression. Could it be true that light therapy is ineffective and it's all just the placebo effect? You know what — I don't care. I do not give one flying fig. What I know is that it meant the difference between spending November through January exhausted and hopeless and spending November through January annoyed at the cold weather and eager for spring to arrive. From where I sit, that's a massive difference and well worth the $200 I paid for my lightbox when I bought it secondhand (from a psychiatrist who'd used it herself, incidentally, until she moved from Canada to SF and found she no longer spent winters wanting to kill herself).
posted by Lexica at 6:02 PM on January 4, 2011

There are many, many reasons people have trouble sleeping

This is the crucial point.

Modifying your circadian cycle will only help if that is your actual problem [and you can do that for free by increasing your outdoor sun exposure].

Asking 'does therapy X work' for a problem for which there are many causes isn't going to help much, if it works at all, it will only work for those affected by the particular root cause the therapy addresses.

My advice is to concentrate on working out the reason for your sleep problems - you can use daylight therapy to modify your circadian cycle for free as I said, and if this helps you may find an artificial device such as this convenient, however if your insomnia stems from another cause, this device would be a waste of time & money no matter how many glowing testimonials you may read about it.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:04 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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