Red Light Therapy for Brain Health

Mental illness has become a hugely common condition worldwide. Although, as a community people are more understanding about mental illness, there is still a stigma attached to it. There are many different mental disorders, with different presentations. They are generally characterised by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. The concern of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impact on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences throughout the world.


The most common form of this condition is depression, with an estimated 264 million people affected worldwide [1]. Depression can present as sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feeling guilty or having low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, fatigue and poor concentration [1]. Depression can be experienced for long periods or can come and go. People find it can affect their ability to function at work, school or to cope with daily life. 

There are also some effective therapies for depression such as cognitive behaviour therapy, psychotherapy and pharmaceutical antidepressants. Management of depression should also include social aspects, including identifying stress and sources of support, such as family members and friends. Social networks and social activities are also important.

Anxiety disorder

Anxiety is a normal and natural reaction to a stressful, unfamiliar or uncertain situation. It comes with feelings of worry, nervousness or apprehension. Sometimes people experience digestive systems effects that feel like butterflies in the belly. Events like sitting an exam, public speaking or attending a job interview are situations where anxiety is common. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the anxious thoughts, feelings or physical symptoms are severe, upsetting, frequent and interrupt daily life [2]. 

Bipolar disorder

This disorder affects 45 million people around the world [1]. It usually consists of both manic and depressive episodes with periods of time where there is a balance in the mood. The manic episodes are the elevated or irritable mood where the person experiences over-activity, rapid speech, inflated self-esteem and a reduced need for sleep. It is possible to have manic attacks without depressive episodes but this is still known as bipolar disorder.


Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder which affects 20 million people worldwide [1]. Psychoses which are experienced with schizophrenia are characterised by distorted thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self and behaviour [1]. This can also occur with hallucinations (hearing/seeing/feeling things that are not there) and delusions (false beliefs/suspicions where there is evidence to the contrary). The disorder can make it difficult for people affected to work or study normally. 

Nourishment of the mind


The word nourishment is normally related to the act of nourishing through the act of eating food. Definitely this is one of the important things to do for brain health and for mental health. The foods which have been shown to maintain and improve the mind are [3]:

Green leafy vegetables

Fatty fish and other omega 3 containing foods such as walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds  


Tea and coffee in moderate amounts


Water is also very important for brain health. Having optimal hydration balance is vitally important for brain function. Dehydration of the brain reduces memory and cognitive ability [4]. Studies also show that dehydration has negative effects on the mood in all age groups [4]. In the older generations, there is a more detrimental effect than in the younger generations. 

It has been said that by the time the sensation of thirst occurs, the body, and therefore the brain, is already dehydrated. For a long time the standard 2L or 8 glasses of water a day was the recommendation but this doesn't take into account the variations between people. For a person who weighs 90kg to be drinking the same amount of water as someone who is 60kg doesn't really make sense. To help get a more accurate idea of how much water is needed, use this formula [11]:

Body weight x 0.033 = litres required

90kg person

90 x 0.033 = 2.97L

60kg person

60 x 0.033 = 1.98L

This is the amount that is needed for optimal body and brain functions. During times of physical exertion or hot weather more may be required. This amount is for actual water by the way! Tea, coffee, energy drinks and juice don't count towards total water intake. For those who aren't drinking enough water at the moment, start to increase the water intake slowly and switch a few coffees or teas for a glass of water to help improve brain function and mood. For people who have any other conditions such as kidney disorders, they should consult their physician beforehand. 

Mental stimulation

The old saying of use it or lose it really applies to the brain. For a long time it was thought that once the brain was fully developed by the early 20's that all that could be done was to maintain it and for there to then be a slow decline in some circumstances. Recently a new term has come along called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the new understanding that the brain is dynamic, physically changed by both internal and external factors to allow for new neural pathways to be formed [5]. Things like learning a new language, an instrument, seeking out new experiences and learning about a difficult topic all encourage these new neural pathways. Nourishing the mind this way can directly improve brain function but there are other ways it can help mental health. Having goals that are achieved and new experiences is very positive and encourages a healthy mindset.

Red and infrared light therapy 

It has become increasingly obvious that red and infrared light therapy treatment can provide astonishing health benefits. Clinical studies are beginning to show improvement of mental condition using red and infrared wavelengths. This technology is just another way to nourish the mind to improve mental health. 

The first question people might have is whether red and infrared light can actually reach the brain. Using the skulls and brains of cadavers, it has been shown that the rays of this spectrum range do penetration in the central nervous system tissues to a depth of approximately 4cm [6]. Infrared light in the mid 800nm range provides the most optimal absorption [6]. Keep in mind that hair does diffuse the light to reduce absorption. More than 98% of infrared light at 810nm can be blocked by 2 mm of hair [9]. This means better absorption will happen on hair-free areas like the temples and forehead. Otherwise, apply the light to areas of the head after parting the hair. 

The lack of sleep or quality sleep can be a contributing factor to depression. Without proper sleep throughout the night, it is very difficult to raise mood levels. Red and infrared light has been shown to encourage a better night sleep. Studies show that better sleep also leads to people feeling more alert when they wake up and an improved performance on cognitive tests when using red and infrared light [7]. 

Patients with depression who trialled red and infrared light found they experienced results in four to eight treatments, some to the point of resolution in this time [8]. This is much quicker than with antidepressant medications which can take many weeks to reach a concentration which will be effective. The treatment used for these people was with application on the forehead and temples. It was found that 32 of 39 patients experienced a remission from depression [8]. Suicidal ideation resolved in all, but two of the patients. Patients were found to remain in remission for up to 55 months after a single course of treatment [8].

For people who have brain injuries, the size of the lesion was significantly lower than the control group at 15 days and 4 weeks after the injury occurred [9]. This reduction in lesion size was also associated with an antidepressant effect at 4weeks [9].

Similar results have been found when using red and infrared light for anxiety disorders. It was found that using infrared light applied to the head for 20 minutes showed a significant reduction in anxiety scores as well as significant improvement in their sleep [10]. They found it was well tolerated and there was no side effects found [10]

As mentioned, using red and infrared light on the head has benefits for the brain and mental health. The light shone in this way initiates healing, rejuvenation, pain relief and all the benefits mentioned about in this article. Another option using a red/infrared light device is to stimulate acupuncture points instead of needles. For this it will require advice from an acupuncturist or Chinese medicine practitioner to determine the exact points required to address the mental disorder or other health condition. This is just another way that the light devices can be used. 

To be effective, red and infrared lights need to be used at least once daily and for a good amount of time to be beneficial for mental health. These lights can provide a daily recharge for brain function. The process is safe, affordable, and offers lasting results. The studies also show that it is safe to be used with pharmaceutical medication for mental health [8]. The act of using the light can become part of a self-care routine which is very important for improving and maintaining mental health. That in itself will help to improve these types of disorders.

Mental health disorders can be serious and debilitating conditions. It is important to talk to a doctor and do not discontinue any treatment given by them without discussing it first. Infrared and red light technology may be an effective treatment but it should not be used as a stand-alone treatment. Counselling or psychotherapy of some type should be used along with other treatments which have been recommended by health professionals. By nourishing the brain with healthy foods, good water, mental stimulation and red/infrared light technology combined with standard medical treatment, it may be possible to break through poor mental health. 


[1] World Health Organisation, Mental Disorders, November, 2019,

[2] The Australian Psychological Society, Psychology Topics – Anxiety disorder, 2021,

[3] Harvard Medical School, Foods links to better brain power, Harvard Health Publishing, March, 2021,

[4] Pross N., Effects of Dehydration on Brain Functioning: A Life-Span Perspective, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, June, 2017,

[5] Jill L. Kays, Robin A. Hurley, and Katherine H. Taber, The Dynamic Brain: Neuroplasticity and Mental Health, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, April, 2012

[6] Vladan Keković, Kurt Schicho, Michael Figl, Praveen Arany, Zoran Jezdić, Ivan Soldatović, Milan Petrović, Light distribution of 635 nm LED for PBM treatments in the maxillofacial region, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Cases, March, 2015

[7] Figueiro M.G., Sahin L., Roohan C., Kalsher M., Plitnick B., Rea M.S., Effects of red light on sleep inertia, Nature and Science of Sleep journal, May, 2019,

[8] Henderson Theodore A., Morries Larry D., Watt Near-Infrared Phototherapy for the Treatment of Comorbid Depression: An Open-Label Single-Arm Study, Frontiers in Psychiatry journal, September, 2017,

[9] Takahiro Ando, Weijun Xuan, Tao Xu, Comparison of Therapeutic Effects between Pulsed and Continuous Wave 810-nm Wavelength Laser Irradiation for Traumatic Brain Injury in Mice, October, 2011, PloS One Journal,

[10] Maiello M., Losiewicz O.M., Bui E., Spera V., Hamblin M.R., Marques L., Cassano P.,  Transcranial Photobiomodulation with Near-Infrared Light for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Pilot Study, Journal of Photobiomodulation and Photomedical Lasers in Surgery, October, 2019,

[11] Whitney, E. and Rolfes, S.R., 2011, Understanding Nutrition, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, CA, USA