Light therapy in insomnia disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis

J Sleep Res. 2023 Dec;32(6):e13895. doi: 10.1111/jsr.13895. Epub 2023 Apr 1.


In the management of insomnia, physicians and patients are seeking alternative therapeutics to sleeping pills, in addition to sleep hygiene and cognitive behavioural therapy. Bright light therapy (LT) has proven its efficacy in circadian and mood disorders. We conducted a systematic literature review and meta-analysis according to Cochrane and PRISMA guidelines and using the databases Medline, Cochrane, and Web of Science, with a special focus on light therapy and insomnia. Twenty-two studies with a total of 685 participants were included, five of which with a high level of proof. Meta-analysis was performed with 13 of them: light therapy for insomnia compared with control conditions significantly improved wake after sleep onset (WASO: SMD = -0.61 [-1.11, -0.11]; p = 0.017; weighted difference of 11.2 min ±11.5 based on actigraphy, and SMD = -1.09 [-1.43, -0.74] (p < 0.001) weighted difference of -36.4 min ±15.05) based on sleep diary, but no other sleep measures such as sleep latency, total sleep time (TST), or sleep efficiency. Qualitative analysis of the review showed some improvement mainly in subjective measures. Morning light exposure advanced sleep-wake rhythms and evening exposure led to a delay. No worsening was observed in objective nor subjective measures, except for TST in one study with evening exposure. A light dose-response may exist but the studies' heterogeneity and publication bias limit the interpretation. To conclude, light therapy shows some effectiveness for sleep maintenance in insomnia disorders, but further research is needed to refine the light parameters to be chosen according to the type of insomnia, in the hope of developing personalised therapeutics.

Keywords: bright light therapy; chronobiology; insomnia; meta-analysis; phototherapy; sleep disorder.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome