Did you know irregular light/dark patterns can disrupt your circadian rhythm? Not only that, a boggled circadian rhythm increases your risk of disease and reduces your quality of life. This is especially a problem for individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias (ADRD), because they spend more time indoors, exposed to lower light levels.
Irregular circadian patterns for individuals with Alzheimer’s or ADRD can become life-threatening if individuals leave their homes in the night and wander alone outside.
Light affects sleep patterns by acting on the retina (the part of the eye that’s sensitive to light) and syncing the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), the body’s master clock, to its own light/dark pattern. When we get enough sunlight, we sync up with the 24-hour solar day. When we’re not exposed to regular daily patterns of light, our sleep patterns go bonkers.
Mariana Figueiro, an associate professor at Rensselaer and director of the Light and Health Program at the Lighting Research Center (LRC) led a recent study of these circadian disruptions related to light/dark and activity/rest patterns. The research team used a device called a Dimesimeter to record how much phototopic and circadian light a subject encounters, and whether they’re resting or active. The team studied 16 healthy older adults, and 21 adults with ADRD. Subjects with ADRD were less active, exposed to less light, and had more irregular sleep patterns than their healthy counterparts. The whole study will be published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
So, how do we fix this destructive pattern? Figueiro believes it’s treatable. She explained, “By quantifying an individual’s light/dark exposure pattern, we can prescribe ‘light treatments’ promoting circadian entrainment, thereby improving health and well-being.”
What does “light therapy” look like? Well, the innovative Dimesimeter (named one of the “Top 10 Innovations of 2011” by The Scientist) can possibly allow physicians to predict the optimum timing of the treatment to resynchronize the circadian phase with the solar day. The types of “light therapy” could range from going outside for 15 minutes to sitting in front of a light box full of blue LEDs.
Check out this video about the Dimesimeter’s incredible potential:
Want the full story? Read the original press release from the Lighting Research Center.