Give Your Brain a Boost with Blue Light

Did You Know… 

… Swedish scientists believe light waves could be better than coffee for mental alertness—with no side effects?

The concept sounds futuristic: special light waves that enhance alertness in less than a minute.  But researchers at Mid Sweden University in Ostersund found exposure to short wavelength blue light improves brain function almost immediately.  The research team compared the effects of blue light and caffeine on the brain.  The findings?  Both had benefits, but exposure to blue light led to better cognitive function and less distraction.

For the study, a group of 21 health individuals took a computer-based psychomotor vigilance test prior to experiencing one of four randomly assigned stimulations…

  • White light and a placebo
  • White light and 240 milligrams (mg) of caffeine
  • Blue light and a placebo
  • Blue light and 240 milligrams (mg) of caffeine

Then, the participants took the vigilance test again.  To analyze the results, the team used the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale.  Both the caffeine and blue light groups experience enhanced accuracy… decisiveness… and speed.

However, when it came to other key areas, the blue light group outperformed the caffeine group.  Participants in the blue light group had far better visual reaction performance and were also consistently more able to tune out distractions.

The study builds on previous research indicating blue light boosts cognitive abilities such as memory… alertness… and reaction time.  Although the Mid Sweden study used hour-long light exposure times to coordinate with the effects of caffeine, prior studies have shown blue light changes brain function in just 50 seconds.

Blue light has “the potential to positively influence a range of settings where cognitive function and alertness are important,” state the Mid Sweden authors, in their full findings which recently appeared in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

No Pain, Plenty of Gain, and a Very Pleasant Side Effect 

Despite being powerful enough to trigger biological effects in the body, blue light is completely harmless to tissue.  This unique combination allows scientists to adapt it in order to treat a range of medical conditions. Doctors at the University Hospital of Heidelberg in Germany developed a patch that treats pain by emitting blue light, and research from the University of Montreal showed that individuals with impaired vision who are unable to see objects can still sense when a light is turned on or off.

The fact that changes in light register in the brain (even in the absence of sight) could have far-reaching applications for the treatment of blindness as well as cognitive disorders.  The next step is to determine how to use the blue light precisely to activate certain parts of the brain.  Blue light “stimulates higher cognitive brain activity, independently of vision, and engages supplemental brain areas,” wrote the authors of the University of Montreal Study.

Another study even found blue light helped combat bad breath.  A two-minute long tooth whitening session using blue light lamps had the pleasant side effect of killing the bacteria in the saliva associated with bad breath.  For similar reasons, blue light has been shown to be effective against acne, as well.

Blue light devices for home use are widely available online.  Experts advise that you should do your research and be certain your product is manufactured by a reputable company.  Additionally, you may want to talk to your doctor about using blue light therapy to treat specific health concerns.

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