Are you moody, tired, irritable? Do you often wake up feeling as if you need more sleep? If so, it might be time to see yourself in a new light—literally. Some employers have opted to use softer, dimmer lighting for work spaces instead of the bright florescent lights we’re used to in the hopes of creating a more relaxed, comfortable environment. This is a practice that we may want to rethink given a new study published by Michigan State University.
In the study, rats were exposed to dim lighting for prolonged periods of time. It was discovered that this exposure to dim light caused brain capacity to diminish in the test rats. Scientists deduce the same could likely be true for humans. Light helps regulate the natural rhythms of our body and mind, and not getting enough, or the right kind, of light can impact our health in surprising ways.
The rats used in the study were diurnal, which means they sleep at night and are active during the day, functioning on the same circadian rhythm that humans do. When the animals were exposed to only dim light every day for four weeks, they lost about 30 percent capacity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory. They performed poorly on spatial tasks that previously had been easy for them to complete. It was found that the exposure to dim light led to a reduction in a peptide in the brain that maintains healthy connections called neurotrophic factor, and also caused a reduction in the connections that allow the neurons to communicate with each other.
As a comparative, rats that were exposed to bright light every day for the four weeks showed the same or better performance on the same tasks that the dim light group performed. It was also found that the rats who had been exposed to dim lighting could recover the lost capacities in their brains when allowed to absorb bright light again.
What could this study mean for us? For one thing, it gives scientists new information on helping people who have eye problems—especially the aging population—and will open up doors to new treatment options. It also offers the possibility of improving cognitive function in the aging population and those with neurological disorders. For the rest of us, it means that it is vitally important to our brain health that we get exposed to enough bright light daily to maintain good brain function.
Why? Humans evolved under the cycle of day and night. If this cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, gets disrupted it can affect our sleep, mood and cognitive function. Not getting enough of the right kinds of light can affect hormones such as melatonin and serotonin, which help regulate our mood and sleep. As light enters the eye, it hits light sensitive cells that contribute to the circadian rhythm by sending messages to the hypothalamus. The hormones from the hypothalamus control functions such as temperature regulation, thirst, hunger, sleep, mood, sex drive, and the release of other hormones within the body. This area of the brain houses the pituitary gland and other glands in the body. If you’re not getting enough of the right kinds of light to stimulate the light sensitive cells, all these bodily functions will be out of whack leading to sleep disorders, mood disorders, and more.
The good news is our light intake is something we can easily control. Making sure to get outside in the bright light daily is vitally important to our good health, not to mention giving us a good dose of Vitamin D. We can also regulate our light intake by using the BrainTap headset. The blue light in the BrainTap stimulates the photoreceptor cells to generate the proper response in the hypothalamus. This helps regulate our sleep, mood and resets our circadian rhythms. By taking a few minutes each day to expose ourselves to the right kinds of light, we can erase the negative effects that sitting in offices and in front of televisions can do and maintain a healthy, active, cognitively efficient brain. And, employers who want happier, more productive employees should ditch the dim light for brighter, more natural alternatives.
Haven’t experienced the BrainTap headset yet? Now you can! Simply visit http://braintap.com/find-location/ and ask for a complimentary demonstration!
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