Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have found that exposure to short wavelength, or blue light, during the biological day directly and immediately improves alertness and performance. These findings are published in the February issue of Sleep.
"Our previous research has shown that blue light is able to improve alertness during the night, but our new data demonstrates that these effects also extend to daytime light exposure," said Shadab Rahman, PhD, a researcher in BWH's Division of Sleep Medicine and lead author of this study. "These findings demonstrate that prolonged blue light exposure during the day has an an alerting effect."
In order to determine which wavelengths of light were most effective in warding off fatigue, the BWH researchers teamed with George Brainard, PhD, a professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University, who developed the specialized light equipment used in the study. Researcherscompared the effects of blue light with exposure to an equal amount of green light on alertness and performance in 16 study participants for 6.5 hours over a day. Participants then rated how sleepy they felt, had their reaction times measured and wore electrodes to assess changes in brain activity patterns during the light exposure.
The researchers found that participants exposed to blue light consistently rated themselves as less sleepy, had quicker reaction times and fewer lapses of attention during the performance tests compared to those who were exposed to green light. They also showed changes in brain activity patterns that indicated a more alert state.
"These results contribute to our understanding of how light impacts the brain and open up a new range of possibilities for using light to improve human alertness, productivity and safety," explained Steven Lockley, PhD, neuroscientist at BWH and senior investigator of the study. "While helping to improve alertness in night workers has obvious safety benefits, day shift workers may also benefit from better quality lighting that would not only help them see better but also make them more alert."
Researchers note that the next big challenge is to figure out how to deliver better lighting. While natural light is ideal, many people do not have access to daylight in their schools, homes or work places. In addition to improvements in daylight access, the advent of new, more controllable lighting technologies may help enable researchers to develop 'smart' lighting systems designed to maximize the beneficial effects of light for human health, productivity and safety.
This research was supported by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA.
Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 3.5 million annual patient visits, is the largest birthing center in New England and employs nearly 15,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 1,000 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $650 million in funding.
For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH continually pushes the boundaries of medicine, including building on its legacy in transplantation by performing a partial face transplant in 2009 and the nation's first full face transplant in 2011. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information and resources, please visit BWH's online newsroom.
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