Amanda MacMillan, SELF magazine
Staying up into the wee hours is okay as long as you're sleeping in and getting enough shuteye overall, right? Sorry, night owls and shift workers: A study published today suggests that exposure to bright light at night messes with the brain's mood and memory center--meaning that it could lead to depression and learning problems, even without the lack of sleep issue.
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The study, published in the journal Nature, was done on mice, but the authors from Johns Hopkins University say we actually have a lot in common with the fuzzy lab creatures--including cells in our eyes, called ipRGCs (I know, the jargon is intense), that are activated by bright light and, in turn, send signals to the brain. When these mice were exposed to 3.5-hour round-the-clock cycles of light and dark, they began acting sadder and slower: They lacked interested in sugar or pleasure-seeking behaviors, moved around less, and did not learn as quickly or remember tasks as well as mice on a longer, more natural light/dark cycle.
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Theoretically, round-the-clock exposure to high-wattage bulbs, laptops, televisions and even smartphone screens (!) held close to the face may have a similar effect on our ipRGCs and our brains, study author Samer Hatter, PhD, tells SELF.
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So what's this mean for us? It's basically another argument against late nights at the office, Facebooking in bed, turning on bright lights in the middle of the night, and waiting until all your shows are over to finish (or, ahem, start) your work for tomorrow. You know, all that sleep hygiene stuff we've been preaching all along. And Hatter says that while this theory hasn't been tested, he suspects that exposing yourself to lots of natural light during the day time will increase your brain's tolerance to light at night, as well.
It's also something to think about as we head into this busy, sleep-deprived holiday season. Give yourself a curfew, take one night a week off for yourself, whatever you need to just chill out--and turn off.
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