Dim light, sleep tight, and wake up bright - Sleep optimization in athletes by means of light regulation

Despite an elevated recovery need, research indicates that athletes often exhibit relatively poor sleep. Timing and consolidation of sleep is driven by the circadian system, which requires periodic light-dark exposure for stable entrainment to the 24-hour day, but is often disturbed due to underexposure to light in the morning (e.g. low-level indoor lighting) and overexposure to light in the evening (e.g. environmental and screen-light). This study examined whether combining fixed sleep schedules with light regulation leads to more consolidated sleep. Morning light exposure was increased using light-emitting goggles, whereas evening light exposure was reduced using amber-lens glasses. Using a within-subject crossover design, twenty-six athletes (14 female, 12 male) were randomly assigned to start the intervention with the light-regulation-week or the no light-regulation-week. Sleep was monitored by means of sleep diaries and actigraphy. Due to low protocol adherence regarding the fixed sleep-wake schedules, two datasets were constructed; one including athletes who kept a strict sleep-wake schedule (N = 8), and one that also included athletes with a more lenient sleep-wake schedule (N = 25). In case of a lenient sleep-wake schedule, light regulation improved self-reported sleep onset latency (Δ SOL = 8 min). This effect was stronger (Δ SOL = 17 min) and complemented by enhanced subjective sleep quality in case of a strict sleep-wake schedule. None of the actigraphy-based estimates differed significantly between conditions. To conclude, light regulation may be considered a potentially effective strategy to improve subjective sleep, but less obtrusive methods should be explored to increase protocol compliance.
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