"Many nursing home residents have difficulty sleeping at night,” said Julie Gammack, M.D., a SLUCare geriatrician and assistant professor of geriatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
"While one approach to this problem is giving medication that promotes sleep, another solution may be to provide natural sunlight exposure.” Dr. Gammack, who is principal investigator for the study, said previous research shows morning and afternoon light therapy can help regulate sleeping patterns of nursing home residents.
Studies show that natural sunlight helps set our body's internal clock that tells us when to eat and sleep, and normalises hormonal functions that occur at specific times of the day. People need to receive about 30 to 60 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight for sleep patterns to improve, Dr. Gammack said.
"Keeping people awake during the day is one element of improving sleep. If people nap during the day, then they are less likely to sleep normally at night,” Dr. Gammack said. "You can set an alarm for the morning, but alarm clocks aren't very effective to prevent frequent daytime napping.”
The connection between light and mood is well documented, Dr. Gammack said. Treating patients who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months with light therapy helps their mood.
"Light therapy may provide secondary effects on sleep quality that are independent of mood symptoms, such as time to fall asleep and number of awakenings.” A small pilot study Dr. Gammack conducted found that nursing home patients who were exposed to natural light had improved sleep quality.
They had less difficulty falling asleep, fewer episodes of wakefulness during the night and greater satisfaction with the amount of sleep they got. If sunlight improves sleep for residents of nursing homes, they might not request as many sleeping medications, Dr. Gammack says.
MEDICA.de; Source: Louis University Health Sciences Center