The eye is for more than just seeing. Science believes that the eye also has a photoreceptor used to regulate our bodies.
Science has known that short-wave lights (also known as blue lights) regulates our biological clocks and our emotions. In fact, many mood disorders have been attributed to the lack of natural lighting (blue lights). For instance, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a bout of seasonal depression, is brought on by the long darkness of winter. Consequently, therapists use artificial lighting that mimic natural light to treat specific mood disorders, such as SAD.
Why does the body respond positively to blue lights? The color that our eyes respond positively to is similar to the color of the sky on a clear sunny day. If you think back, it is the clear and sunny days that you feel most energized and alert.
So we have known that natural lighting, specifically those close the blue wave length, does increase our attention and alertness. In contrast, the lack of natural lighting makes us sleepy and at times, fatigued.
Although science does know the benefits of natural light, a recent study was specifically designed to test the body’s responsiveness to artificial blue lighting. The study concluded that artificial blue light has the ability to increase our attention and alertness.
The study, conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston exposed participants to blue light during the course of a normal workday (consisting of 6.5 hours per day). In the control group, the participants were exposed to blue light. After being exposed, those who were exposed to blue light responded faster to auditory cues and were more attentive. Their brainwaves also revealed that they were more alert than the control group, although the feeling was not as tangible. Previous research done by the same researchers showed that those exposed to blue light at night were more alert—bringing their alertness up to almost to levels during the day. Previous research into blue light coupled with these newest findings suggest that artificial blue light can be used to increase cognitive performance. Neuroscientist Steven Lockley, one of the study’s authors, said:
“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. 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.”
The authors of this study hope the research can be used to bring about technologies that can bring improved lighting into the classroom and workforce to in order to improve learning and workplace productivity.
Of course, excess exposure to blue light, especially in the hours before bed can lead to disrupted to sleep or trouble falling asleep. Because what also helps us fall awake can also disrupt our sleep. Our biological clock, also known as our circadian rhythm, coincides with that of blue lighting. Thus, too much exposure to short wave lighting can disrupt sleep late at night. This is because blue light has the affect of suppressing melatonin levels, which is an important chemical that helps us regulate our sleep. In the study referenced above, the blue light subjects had melatonin suppressed by twice as long as the subjects that were exposed to green light.
In addition, those exposed to blue lights experienced a 3 hour shift in their circadian rhythm as opposed to 1.5 hours for the green light group. If you do not have trouble sleeping, then everything is fine. However, if you do have trouble sleeping, blue lights may be the reason. Sadly, blue lights are in most lights, and are especially in high concentrations in energy efficient lighting. Professionals have suggested using red lamps instead of regular laps for those who have trouble regulating their sleep at night. As you can see, there are two sides to every coin.
Although blue lights can increase attention and wakefulness, it can also detract from sleep if there is too much exposure. For those who have trouble sleeping, perhaps replacing your light sources with red lamps or incandescent bulbs will help you sleep better. And for those that have trouble keeping attention and staying awake at work or school, then exposure to artificial blue light can be helpful.
If you are interested in increasing your school or workplace performance, consider the following light below: