A pilot study attempting to solve insomnia among lung cancer patients will use light therapy to prevent the disorder, according to researchers from University at Buffalo.

Using a pair of glasses that shine light into the wearer’s eyes, the research is examining if the rays can trigger neurotransmitters in the brain and reset participants’ sleep cycles.

“Sleep is important for patients with cancer because it is critical for immune system functioning, learning and memory, and overall quality of life,” says sleep researcher Grace Dean, associate professor in the UB School of Nursing, who has been studying fatigue in cancer patients since the early 1990s.

The study, “Bright Light Therapy to Improve Sleep Continuity Disturbances in Lung Cancer Survivors,” is funded by a $25,000 Foundation Endowment Research grant from the Oncology Nursing Society.

The research follows another study led by Dean, published earlier this year in the journal Cancer Nursing, that found lung cancer patients experienced early and middle insomnia — difficulty falling and staying asleep — before and during chemotherapy treatment.

It is estimated that 50-80 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer experience severe insomnia that may persist for an average of eight years after the initial diagnosis, says Dean.

Sleeplessness in lung cancer patients often is caused by the effects of the illness, such as pain, anxiety, nausea and impaired breathing. Fatigue is worsened for people who suffered from a sleep disorder before their cancer diagnosis, she says.

Treating sleep disorders with light therapy is nothing new; however, the research will test a unique method in delivering the treatment. The glasses participants will wear are a portable alternative to the large stationary light boxes patients typically use.

Developed by Re-Time, the new light therapy glasses, Re-Timer, shine an ultraviolet-free green light toward the wearer’s eyes and can be worn while performing everyday activities. Re-Time provided the devices used in the study.

Participants will wear the glasses every morning for one hour. When the light reaches the brain, it triggers neurotransmitters in the brain to shut off the production of melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep, and increase cortisol levels, a hormone that helps us wake.

Researchers will use actigraphy, a method of monitoring rest and activity using a sensor worn on the wrist, to measure the amount of time participants sleep and to track how often they wake throughout the night.