Sleep, light and inflammation

Our ancestors organized their lives according to natural rhythms of light and darkness, working in daylight and for the most part, sleeping when night fell.  But in the last century we have had more choices about when to complete tasks and when to rest.  Technology has made it possible for us to live in lighted conditions at all hours, disrupting the body’s circadian cycles so that we often do not get the restorative sleep that our bodies and minds need for optimum performance and wellness.

Many of us are more affected by our constant exposure to light than we may realize. Even low-level blue wavelength light, such as that emitted by televisions, computer and phone screens, and fluorescent lighting, can be disruptive and have negative effects on our bodies and behavior.  Some studies have implicated 24-hour exposure to light as a contributing factor in conditions such as obesity and depression.

While we may not be able to eliminate light at night (LAN), we can minimize its biological effects. By becoming more aware of the impact of LAN on our brain health and physical wellness, we can make better choices about light exposure at night and how we can adapt our environments and schedule our sleep.   

In the Sleep, light and inflammation project, we will study the effects of dim LAN, including evaluating its relationship to the neuroinflammation that stresses our bodies and brains and contributes to neurogenerative diseases.  We will also seek to discover whether LAN contributes to the increasing number of people dealing with sleep disorders in the US. Eventually we hope to provide information to help people stabilize circadian rhythms to improve sleep and mental well-being and optimize neurocapacity.

Initial research will be conducted using rat studies to begin evaluating the effects of light exposure and sleep, then we will move on to conduct further studies with human recruits. Future plans for related research include studying the use of novel molecular compounds that bolster amplitudes of circadian rhythms, to help improve sleep quality for individuals who cannot modify their sleep environments.