Eye Research Suggests that "Blue Light" Improves Health, Learning and Workplace Performance.
By Laurence D. Martel, Ph.D.
Special to Doctors Health Journal
Major research breakthroughs demonstrate how lighting can improve our health, learning and performance. First, researchers have identified a new class of undetected photoreceptors in the eye that function differently than helping us with vision. Second, new research shows that common lighting products might be less helpful by emphasizing only the photopic side of the visual color spectrum instead of both the scotopic(blue wave length) and photopic side of lighting.
Dr. Michael Siminovitch, Research Director at the California Lighting Technology Research Center at the University of California - Davis, reports a shift in lighting research. In the past, most lighting products and architectural designs focused on photopic lighting. He said, "a new emphasis on the scotopic side, and particularly the â€˜blueâ€™ wavelength holds great promise in improving vision and other non-visual effects of â€˜blue lightâ€™(400-475 nm)exposure."
Dr. Russell Foster of the Department of Integrative and Molecular Neuroscience at Imperial College in the United Kingdom said that scientists recently identified a protein-like photo-pigment within the retina called CRY™ or Cryptochromes™. The newly discovered photo-receptors are also responsive to blue waves, in part due to their "blue pigment and contribute to several physiological responses," according to Foster.
Dr. Foster and his research associates conclude that: "Blue Light influences varied aspects of mammalian physiology, endocrinology and behavior...which are...regulated by non-rod and non-cone ocular photoreceptors....For example, pineal melatonin production, pupil size, adrenal cortisol secretion, heart rate, and body temperature are all affected by irradiance (sending forth radiant â€˜blue lightâ€™). In humans, increasing environmental irradiance can result in marked improvements in alertness and performance, including mood
Building upon this pioneer research, the September, 2003 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reported that research at Brigham and Woman's Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School found that short-wavelength blue light has a greater impact than most visible kinds of light on resetting the human circadian pacemaker - which controls daily rhythms such as sleep patterns, hormones and other physiological and behavioral functions. â€œThese findings provide us with a more complete understanding of how different types of light impact sleep patterns and cause various sleep-wake disorders such as jet-lag and shift-work disorder," said Steven Lockley, PhD, lead author of the study. "It is the first direct demonstration that photoreceptors other than rods and cones influence circadian rhythms that regulate sleep in humans."
Lighting, enhanced with the â€œblue wave," according to the research team, was twice as effective as the same amount of green light at resetting the internal circadian clock, proving that a novel photoreceptor system exists in the human eye â€“ a receptor that is different than what is used for sight.
Dr. Lockley said this "has major implications for the design of light treatment....to treat or avoid circadian sleep disorders or sleep disorders associated with space travel, life in extreme photoperiods such as the
Arctic and Antarctic, changes in light exposure associated with aging and blindness, as well as ensuring proper alignment of internal circadian rhythms with the ever-increasing pressure to live in a 24/7 society."
"In simplest terms, we found that looking up at the blue sky has twice the resetting effect as looking down at the green grass," said Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at BWH. "This could lead to the development of new treatments and a new class of lamps for greater
control of the circadian clock."
The explanation for this is that the â€œblue" in the color spectrum reduces pupil size in the eye and, thereby, increases visual clarity with less strain and fatigue. When using a floor lamp that was enhanced with innovative BlueMaxâ„¢ technology, one retiree said she could now perform her cross stitching with greater clarity and ease and could work for a much longer time with no headaches.
A lighting manufacturer has taken this research seriously in its commitment to design â€œscotopically" enhanced lighting products (BlueMaxâ„¢) for personal and office use. Full Spectrum Solutions, Inc., has produced a multi-phosphor desk lamp and floor lamp, along with fluorescent replacements that mimic daylight, but favor the blue wave length. The innovative technology is called BlueMax Lightingâ„¢. They hold promise for enhancing quality of vision, clarity and focus in home and work settings, while using less electricity and reducing energy costs. Research has shown that these new â€œscotopic" lamps provide therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression and anxiety, and also increase work, hobby or task performance. They also help deal with sleep disorders which affect as many as 40 million Americans, including a quarter of adults and most teenagers. Teens need about nine hours of sleep and only get about seven. Sleep deprivation can lead to daytime fatigue, lack of alertness, deprivation in the stress hormone cortisol and inability to process glucose which is critical to brain function.
Pediatrician Doris Rapp, M.D. wrote in her best selling book, Is This Your Child's World, â€œThe best lighting for schools (and elsewhere) is natural light. But in many classrooms, students spend about six hours a day beneath cool white fluorescent lights. These can emit X-rays, radiation and radio waves - emissions that can decrease productivity and cause fatigue, confusion, eyestrain, irritability, depression and hyperactivity in some sensitive children (and adults).... A study of one classroom concluded that hyperactivity declined by thirty-three percent when full-spectrum lighting replaced fluorescent lights. So why do we not use full-spectrum lighting all the time, but instead encourage drug therapy with Ritalin? Germany banned cool white fluorescent lighting in both schools and hospitals years ago." Rapp recommends that "If fluorescent lighting must be used, it should be full spectrum lighting." In addition, floor and desk lamps which are enhanced with BlueMaxâ„¢ technology have been demonstrated by the University of Michigan, School of Architecture to improve task performance in reading and visual clarity.
Michigan Psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Field, stated in a recent interview with me that when he and his staff use light therapy (with BlueMax™ fluorescent bulbs and task lamps) Seasonal Affective Disorder patients, along with those who suffer from other illnesses, improve much faster. His office staff also report noticeable improvements in their personal work performance and reduced fatigue with enhanced BlueMax Lighting™ from Full Spectrum Solutions, Inc.
Workplace productivity can improve by changing the lighting. According to the Pennsylvania Power and Lighting Company's report, the Drafting Department had a high error rate and it was believed the employees were not working to their potential because of the inadequate cool-white fluorescent light. "Light from the overhead fixtures was bouncing off the surface of the task and into their eyes, creating a form of indirect glare known as a veiling reflection. It was also using more energy and lasted half as long as full spectrum fluorescent bulbs. Once installed, actual measurement showed that the new lighting permitted workers to perform their tasks more than thirteen percent faster. The productivity benefit was projected to be worth $235,290 per year. It was noted, too, that absenteeism seemed to decline after the new lighting was installed, a result, some said, of less eyestrain and fewer headaches."
In conclusion, people are hesitant to change from what they are comfortable with. Shifting from the limited incandescent lamps, high heat halogen lamps or cool-white florescent lights to the new scotopically enhanced task lamps and full spectrum lights will be beneficial. Nevertheless, scientific research proves that there are previously undiscovered photoreceptors that can significantly affect our health, our daily lives and our workplace performance by responding to blue light and full spectrum light. Also, the scotopic side of lighting shows promise for blue light to improve vision, clarity, focus and performance, while reducing headaches, attention deficits, macular degeneration and other physical and psychological problems.
Dr. Martel is Vice President for Research and Development, Full Spectrum
Solutions, Inc. (Full Spectrum Solutions, Inc. is an Affiliate Member of the University of California Lighting Technology Research Center at U.C. Davis) P.O. 1087 Jackson, Michigan 49204