New UArizona study suggests benefits from blue light

Blue light isn't all that bad, research shows

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Almost everyone is exposed to it daily, through daylight, computers and our smartphones: Blue light make its way into people’s lives regularly.

It often gets a bad reputation and companies make glasses to claiming their products protect the eyes from it. But research from the University of Arizona shows this hue could help heal the brain.

William D. “Scott” Killgore, a psychiatry professor at UA College of Medicine, is the lead author on a new study published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

He looked at whether blue light could help heal people who suffer from mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) like concussions.

Killgore said about 50 percent those who suffer from mTBI have trouble sleeping.

“Recent research has shown that the brain repairs itself during sleep, so Killgore and his co-authors – John Vanuk, Bradley Shane, Mareen Weber and Sahil Bajaj, all from the Department of Psychiatry – sought to determine if improved sleep led to a faster recovery,” according to the study.

In a randomized clinical trial, adults with mTBI used a cube-like device that shines bright blue light at participants from their desk or tables for 30 minutes each morning for six weeks. Control groups were exposed to bright amber light.

“The hypothesis of the study is that if we stimulate an individual with a blue light device at the same time each day, we will shift their normal rhythm of melatonin," Killgore said.

The key word is time. Subjects only used the blue light in the morning in order to help change sleep patterns at night.

"You want blue light in the morning because that helps to re-train the circadian rhythm so that you are able to stay awake in the day and fall asleep at night,” he said.

Resetting not only the body but also an injured brain as well.

“People using this light were able to get more sleep and recover faster from their traumatic injuries,” Killgore said.

Participants fell asleep and woke an average of one hour earlier than before the trial and were less sleepy during the daytime, according to research. Participants improved their speed and efficiency in brain processing and showed an increase in volume in the pulvinar nucleus, an area of the brain responsible for visual attention.

Neural connections and communication flow between the pulvinar nucleus and other parts of the brain that drive alertness and cognition were also strengthened.

But that doesn’t mean people have to have a brain injury to benefit.

Killgore said the light can impact daily life.

"Blue light also enhances working memory capacity, it speeds up brain processing and we also found that it helps with verbal memory,” he said.

Killgore and his colleagues are looking at other colors for healing as well.

"We’ve got a project where we’re looking at post traumatic stress disorder, we have others looking at depression even some looking at pain. And what we find is that different colors of light seem to be effective for different kinds of problems.”

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