The effects of light therapy on sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Sleep Med Rev. 2016 Oct:29:52-62. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2015.08.009. Epub 2015 Sep 9.


Although bright light therapy seems a promising treatment for sleep problems, research shows inconclusive results. This meta-analysis is the first to systematically review the effect of light therapy on sleep problems in general and on specific types of sleep problems in particular (circadian rhythm sleep disorders, insomnia, sleep problems related to Alzheimer's disease and dementia). Fifty-three studies with a total of 1154 participants were included. Overall effects and effects on separate circadian and sleep outcomes were examined. We calculated Hedges' g effect sizes and we investigated the effects of twelve moderators (design-related, treatment-related, participant-related). Light therapy was found effective in the treatment of sleep problems in general (g = 0.39), and for circadian rhythm sleep disorders (g = 0.41), insomnia (g = 0.47), and sleep problems related to Alzheimer's disease/dementia (g = 0.30) specifically. For circadian rhythm sleep disorders, effects were smaller for randomised controlled trials. For insomnia, we found larger effects for studies using a higher light intensity, and for sleep problems related to Alzheimer's disease/dementia larger effects were found for studies with more female participants. There was indication of publication bias. To conclude, light therapy is effective for sleep problems in general, particularly for circadian outcomes and insomnia symptoms. However, most effect sizes are small to medium.

Keywords: Bright light therapy; Circadian rhythm sleep disorders; Insomnia; Meta-analysis; Sleep problems.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy*
  • Sleep / radiation effects
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm / therapy
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / complications
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / therapy