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How Light Can Affect Our Sleep & Mood: A Cardiologist Explains

By October 31, 2013Mind Body Green

This week I participated in a unique gathering on Wall Street. Financiers mingled with scientists, farmers, health care professionals, public policy figures, and other leaders to discuss ways to grow green businesses.

The daylong conference covered topics such as: developments in farming to increase healthy food production; strategies to grow wellness activities in schools, businesses and the home; and new approaches to monitoring the effectiveness of supplements and superfoods.

The most radical idea presented was a new form of light therapy that is now commercially available. This was so fascinating that I’m sharing it with you out of excitement. I have no financial ties to either the Wall Street investment firm or the manufacturer. (Just the facts, Ma’am!)

Permit me a bit of science. About 10 years ago, researchers discovered that in the retinas of our eyes, we have not only rod and cone cells to permit vision, but we also have cells that are directly linked to centers in the brain for circadian biorhythms, such as sleep and hormone cycles.

These photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (known as PRGC) respond differently to different wavelengths of light. When light in the blue wavelength (around 480 mm) strikes the PRGC, which regulates sleep cycles, it produces less melatonin. As a result, we feel more energetic and less prone to be sleepy. When light low or free of blue wavelengths strikes the PRGC, we produce melatonin and are more likely to sleep.

Why should you care about this breakthrough?

Maybe you’re among the 50% of people who don’t sleep well at night. Maybe you like to read in bed before you try to fall asleep. Until now, the light bulb in your lamp has been emitting blue light wavelengths (which your brain reads reads as a prompt towake up, not sleep). Maybe you’re at work and feeling tired, but your job requires you to be alert to detail (like when I place stents in people’s hearts, a bad time for a nap).

Can anything be done with light to sleep better or feel more energetic?

As of this week, industry has responded with an innovative response that yes, something can be done. There are now LED light bulbs commercially available that filter out almost all of the blue light wavelengths. This bulb would be ideal for bedtime, as it supports melatonin production and thus better sleep.

On the other hand, a separate bulb is now available that emits increased blue light waves for increased attentiveness. (In my case, the stent goes in the correct artery.) And if you’re patient, there will likely soon be a single “smart bulb” that emits (1) white light, (2) sleep enhancing light, and (3) energizing light. It’s all controlled by a three way switch, which you can adjust depending upon the time of day and your desired energy level.

How cool is that?

The research has been done at the finest universities like the Harvard School of Medicine. Furthermore, NASA and the International Space Station are using this same technology to optimize the performance and health of astronauts in space for many months.

Sure, Yogi Berra said that “the future isn’t all it was cracked up to be” but this appears to be the real deal. I know some people (like my mother!), who instead of flowers on her next birthday will be getting a sleep LED bulb, a gift that I hope will be much more healthful and meaningful.

Originally posted on MindBodyGreen.com