How Is Ambient Red Light Different From Red Light TherapyLast Updated:
People today spend a lot of time indoors, deprived of natural sunlight, and subjected to artificial fluorescent and blue light for prolonged periods. Overexposure to certain forms of artificial light can negatively impact your biological rhythms and health. Sleep patterns, a key factor in overall wellness, are especially at risk for disturbance.
Ambient red light can help you balance your indoor light usage and promote relaxation. It helps to counteract the effects of blue light, improves sleep quality, and promotes general well-being.
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The Difference Between Red Light Therapy and Ambient Red Light
Red light therapy and ambient red light have different definitions and applications.
Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM). Its healing properties are increasingly recognized as beneficial for a range of applications including skin health, anti-aging, injury treatment, pain relief, weight management, physical fitness enhancement, and many more.
Red light wavelengths shine directly upon your skin, penetrating to the cells below. Your mitochondria (the “powerhouses” of your cells) are stimulated, triggering the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an organic compound responsible for biochemical energy transfer.
ATP is delivered to your tissues and organs, elevating the energy level within your cells. Greater cellular energy elicits higher oxygen levels, reduces inflammation, boosts your immune system, and improves your circulation.
Increased cellular energy activates the production of fibroblasts (connective tissue cells that create collagen and elastin). Collagen and elastin are proteins that maintain your skin’s elasticity and are essential to your natural healing process.
Red light therapy elevates your body’s natural healing powers to their optimal level.
Red Ambient Light
The word “ambient” means surrounding. Ambient light is diffused uniformly throughout an environment. Light rays travel in random directions instead of one straight line. Ambient light bathes an area in light rather than shining directly onto objects in its path. Likewise, ambient red light is not shined directly at you; rather, it immerses the room in red light.
With today’s predominantly indoor lifestyle, the lack of exposure to natural light creates a deficiency in your body that no vitamin supplement can fully remedy. An overabundance of blue and fluorescent light is unnatural to the human body and can cause you to experience lethargy, malaise, and sleep problems.
Ambient red light has a soothing and calming effect on your body and mind. It is an excellent substitute for natural light and can ease the symptoms of sunlight deficiency.
Ambient red light does not, however, penetrate or activate your body at its cellular level as red light therapy does. It promotes general wellness and healthy biorhythmic patterns, but it does not have the deep healing powers of red light therapy.
While red light therapy can provide some of the same benefits as ambient red light, it is counterproductive to use red light therapy right before bed. Red light therapy is direct light, and direct bright light (even red) at night over-stimulates your body and drops melatonin production, disrupting relaxation and sleep quality. Ambient red light is more effective for unwinding, tranquility, and sleep.
Red Light, Blue Light, and Natural Body Rhythms
Blue light is shorter in wavelength than red light and acts as a stimulant rather than a calming agent. Due to the growing use of cell phones, computers, television, and other electronics, blue light exposure has increased exponentially in recent years.
Exposure to blue light is not all bad. Blue light stimulates your brain, puts you in “wake-up” mode, enhances attention span, and helps you focus. Blue light before bed, however, signals your brain to stay awake when it should be winding down.
Blue light disturbs your natural circadian rhythm, the internal process that regulates your sleep–wake cycle and repeats on each rotation of the Earth roughly every 24 hours. Blue light also stimulates your hypothalamus (a gland that directly affects hormonal balance and is tied closely to your circadian rhythm.) Melatonin production is suppressed and sleep patterns are interrupted.
If you cannot limit screen time during the three hours before bedtime, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or using an app that filters blue light.
In addition to promoting a healthy circadian rhythm and treating insomnia and other sleep disorders, ambient red light can relieve sleep inertia, that groggy feeling that makes it difficult to wake from sleep.
Ambient red light is also beneficial upon waking. It can help you gently transition into your day before experiencing blue light exposure.
Ambient Red Light Devices
All red light devices utilize light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Ambient red light devices for at-home use include:
- Light Bulbs — Red LED bulbs are made for use in regular household lamps. Although red incandescent bulbs are also sold, they do not radiate real red light; the glass is simply tinted red. So, while a red-tinted incandescent bulb might block some of the blue light that would radiate from a regular white incandescent bulb, it will not provide any benefits of actual red light.
- Nightlights — These small devices plug into your wall outlet to provide overnight ambient red light.
- Reading Lights — Ambient red reading lamps are small and resemble desk lamps. They are good for relieving eye strain.
- Strip Lights — Encased and similar to string lights that you might hang outside, strip lights are convenient, for over- or under-cabinet ambient lighting in kitchens among other uses.
Red Light Therapy Panels — Ambient red light modes are becoming more common in newer red light therapy panels. Ambient modes utilize only gentle, short red light frequencies, not longer near-infrared (NIR).
The device’s NIR light functionality is automatically disabled when in ambient mode. Since red light therapy machines use direct light instead of true ambient light, it is important to aim the device away from yourself. Shining direct light at yourself defeats the purpose of ambient red light.
Aim the device at a wall so the light is not focused on you. The wall acts as a diffuser when the light bounces off of it, creating an ambient light. Red light therapy panels draw more power than devices intended solely for ambient light use, so be aware that this may be more costly.
Click on these links for clinical scientific research and information about sleep disorders, healthy sleep patterns, and the effects of red and blue light on sleep.
- nih.gov - Effects of Red Light on Sleep Inertia (opens in a new tab)
- nih.gov - Red Light and the Sleep of Female Players (opens in a new tab)
- harvard.edu - Blue light has a dark side (opens in a new tab)
- nih.gov - Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation (opens in a new tab)
- nih.gov - Effects of Light Exposure on Cortisol (opens in a new tab)
- harvard.edu - Variation and Genetics of Sleep (opens in a new tab)
- nih.gov - Suppression of Blue Light at Night (opens in a new tab)
Used in conjunction, ambient red light and red light therapy can help you become your healthiest, most vibrant self.