December 11, 2012
Depression Source May Be Your Night Light
Did you know that getting exposed to bright night lights can cause depression and learning problems? Well, it’s true. People who use night lights on a regular basis are actually at higher risk of depression and learning problems. And, while a lack of sleep isn’t exactly helpful in this department, researchers from John Hopkins have found that there is only one culprit to put the blame on: light.
In their research, these researchers routinely exposed several mice to bright night lights. While doing this, they found that special cells in their eyes got activated and affected the parts in their brain that are connected to mood, learning and memory. They also had higher levels of distress, which decreased their cognitive functions and triggered depression.
Because of this, the researchers highly recommend to reduce the amount of lamps that used at night or to at least use less intense lightbulbs whenever possible.
Overall, there is more than just one way, in which light might bother you at night. If you are currently reading this, then photophobia might not be new to you. If it is, it basically has to do with light sensitivity. Well, if light sensitivity is activated at night, then you could increase your risk for depression.
Just think about how many irritants you come across at night when your body fully expects to enjoy the dark: the light of your mobile phone, your laptop screen, your television set, the lights of your electronics, the strobe lights in night clubs, businesses that are open at night, and street lights, for instance.
What you might not realize is that getting away from your gadgets is actually vital to get the darkness that your body and mind need. In fact, night lights might interfere with the natural cycles of your body and this might be the reason behind your depression or sensitivity to light, if you are suffering from either of them.
In fact, new studies seem to suggest that you can end up much happier in your life and even learn new things better if you turn down your lights at night – and this includes your laptop screen.
Although the research has only been done on mice so far, as previously mentioned, the comparisons are also applicable to people since we share the exact same set of light-activated cells in the eyes that mice do. These cells are called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells and they tend to get stimulated by light, in general.
As such, it would be important to start exposing yourself to as much light as possible during the day and then avoid it as much as possible at night. This will stop the aforementioned cells from getting activated and, in turn, stop your mood from getting affected in the end.
In the beginning, all that the researchers wanted to do was find out if mice experience seasonal affective disorder, too, a kind of depression that people tend to experience during the darker winter months. Well, it seems that they do.
How were they able to find out that the mice were sad? Well, in general, mice show signs of sadness. For one, they no longer show interest in sugar. Secondly, they don’t move around as much in their cages. And lastly, they have difficulties remembering and learning things. Also, after giving the mice antidepressants, all of these symptoms vanished, which just goes to show that they really were depressed.
In order to fully understand what role the parts of the brain that affect mood, learning and memory play, the researchers also studied animals that didn’t have special eye cells.
They came to find that the mood, thinking and brain function of the animals without these cells weren’t affected at all. Their ability to detect light and their vision weren’t affected, either. This just goes to show how light can directly affect the mood and learning capabilities through the special photosensitive cells in the eyes.
On another note, circadian rhythms refer to the physical, behavioral and mental changes that follow a 24-hour cycle that responds mainly to the light and the dark in the environment of an organism. One professional questioned if the normal circadian rhythms of the mice were actually maintained after this. After all, although their sleeping pattern were intact, their sleep quality might have deteriorated.
Also, the way the mice were tested to light during the research was a bit different to how humans are generally exposed to night light by nature. For the mice, bright lights were shone on them as they slept, while humans purposely tend to turn off their lights when it’s time for bedtime.
Still, regardless of how mice might react to bright night lights, it would still be highly advisable for people to turn off their lights at night as this would generally be much more beneficial to their health.
Image credit: Photos.com