For decades now, researchers have shown how important sleep is to a wide host of things in our lives — our mood, our memory, our concentration, and to help the body rejuvenate after a day of work and consciousness. Everybody knows that in order to be at our best, you need a good night’s sleep of between 7 and 8 hours (although the exact number varies).
Any less, and it’s the equivalent of giving yourself a daily handicap — making your life harder than it has to be. (Any more and it also doesn’t really benefit you.)
Now researchers have discovered that one of the things that may be contributing to our lack of of quality sleep is artificial lighting. Light seepage coming in from outside (like a streetlight) or coming from inside your bedroom — such as leaving a TV or computer on — appears to affect our mood over a period of four weeks.
The latest research comes out of Ohio State University and its results should be taken with a grain of salt, because it was done not with humans, but with hamsters. Apparently hamsters’ sleep habits are close enough to humans in order to suspect the results are somewhat generalizable:
In the experiment, half of the hamsters spent eight weeks in a standard light-dark cycle of 16 hours of light (150 lux) and 8 hours of total darkness each day. The other half spent the first four weeks with 16 hours of normal daylight (150 lux) and 8 hours of dim light — 5 lux, or the equivalent of having a television on in a darkened room.
Then, these hamsters were moved back to a standard light cycle for either one week, two weeks or four weeks before testing began.
Once the experiment was complete, the hamsters were given a variety of behavioral tests to see how they were doing. The hamsters who were consistently exposed to the dim lighting weren’t as active during the day compared to their total darkness counterparts.
Additionally, the hamsters exposed to dim light showed greater depressive symptoms than did the others, such as less interest in drinking sugar water that they usually enjoy.
The good news is that, at least in hamsters, as quickly as the negative effects of artificial lights may have on our sleep patterns, we can pretty readily repair the damage too:
While hamsters exposed to light at night for four weeks showed evidence of depressive symptoms, those symptoms essentially disappeared after about two weeks if they returned to normal lighting conditions.
As with any animal or pilot study, his research will need to be replicated in humans to verify the results. In the meantime, it couldn’t hurt to try a little experiment in your own bedroom, and try to shut out or minimize the intrusion of artificial lighting. You may notice a difference in a few weeks’ time. At the worst, you’ll simply be sleeping in a darker room.
Read the full article: Keep the TV or Computer on At Night? You’re at Greater Risk for Depression