Let There Be Light: 10 New Studies to Enlighten You About the Health Effects of Light Exposure on Health & Physique

No, the sun does not kill you. If you control your exposure it may extend your life and improve your life-quality significantly.
It's about time to "let there be light" to illuminate the benefits of regular well-timed exposure to sunlight and it's short frequency component. Only recently, researchers from the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) were able to show that daytime light exposure has significant beneficial effects on cognitive brain activity. Significant enough to have the subjects perform better on an oddball task and to significantly increase cortical activity related to cognitive processes (Okamoto. 2014).

But is that really all, bright light, or more specifically, the regular and well-timed exposure to bright light can do for you?
The effects on circadian rhythm could be behind the Sun's anti-cancer effects

Sunlight, Bluelight, Backlight and Your Clock

Sunlight a La Carte: "Hack" Your Rhythm
Breaking the Fast to Synchronize the Clock

Fasting (Re-)Sets the Peripheral Clock

Vitamin A & Caffeine Set the Clock

Pre-Workout Supps Could Ruin Your Sleep
Certainly not. I mean if it's ill-timed, like the evening use of light-emitting eReaders it will negatively affect your sleep, mess up your circadian rhythm and decrease your alertness on the next morning. Similar results, i.e. drowsiness and suppression of energy metabolism the following morning, have been reported by other studies, as well (Kayaba. 2014).

As a SuppVersity reader you do yet know all about those negative effects from the circadian rhythm series, anyway. Reason enough for me, to focus primarily on all the good stuff, the well-timed exposure to bright light can do for you in today's Special of the SuppVersity Short News.
  • If you can't let go off your mobile at night, use blue blocker glasses as a countermeasure for alerting effects of evening light-emitting diode screen exposure - According to researchers from the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, blue blocker glasses (BB) significantly attenuate LED-induced melatonin suppression in the evening and decrease vigilant attention and subjective alertness before bedtime.

    Strangely, though, visually scored sleep stages and behavioral measures collected the morning after were not modified. Still, van der Lely et al. conclude: "BB glasses may be useful in adolescents as a countermeasure for alerting effects induced by light exposure through LED screens and therefore potentially impede the negative effects modern lighting imposes on circadian physiology in the evening "(van der Lely. 2014).
  • UV-light protects against "brainflammation" in MS model - Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison report in their latest paper that UV light selectively inhibits spinal cord inflammation and demyelination in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis.

    Previous studies have already shown that UV radiation (UVR) can suppress experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of multiple-sclerosis (MS), independent of vitamin D production. The mechanism of this suppression did yet remain to be elucidated, until Wang et al. (2014) observed that UVR (10kJ/m²) does not just inhibit the inflammation and demyelination of the spinal cord, but will also dramatically and significantly reduce spinal cord chemokine CCL5 mRNA and protein levels.

    In conjunction with an increased production of intereron-gamma (IFN-γ) and IL-10, which are actually used to treat all sorts of autoimmune diseases, artificial and natural UV light can thus actually "prevent the migration of inflammatory cells into the CNS" (Wang. 2014).
  • Melatonin conc. after 4 days w/ dim vs. bright light and tryptophan rich vs. poor breakfast (Fukushige. 2014).
    Bright light in the AM and the consumption of a breakfast that's high in tryptophan can help you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm - In case you are asking yourself how you can grasp all the benefits that are associated with having an intact circadian rhythm, you may be intrigued to hear that researchers from the Fukuoka Women's University have been able to show that an increase in tryptophan intake at breakfast combined with daytime light exposure has beneficial effects on melatonin secretion and sleep quality. As you can see in the figure to the left it will significantly elevate the evening melatonin peak, which is critical for an optimal circadian rhythm.

    If you are looking to optimize your internal clock bright light (either sunlight or a 10,000 Lux daylight lamp) + tryptophan (seeds, nuts, soy, cheese, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans and eggs are the TOP10 sources) are the way to go. If you want an extra "kick" add some coffee to the equation. This will increase the light responsiveness of the circadian pacemaker - well, at least in mice it does (Diepen. 2014).
If you want to design your own "dawn simulator" that's the spectrum you need (Virginie. 2014).
Wanna be smarter, but can't get enough sleep? Start your day with a dawn simulation: Chronic sleep restriction (SR) has deleterious effects on cognitive performance that can be counteracted by light exposure. Scientists from the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel have recently been able tho show that a dawn simulating in the AM will increase your task performance throughout the day after morning; and what's best: The benefit was most pronounced in those participants who sucked the most when they didn't get a good night's sleep (Virginie. 2014).
  • Bright lights at work will keep you sane, happy and alert - If you are working in an insufficiently lit office without natural sunlight, you should be prepared to develop physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms.

    Assuming you have a window in your office, you will get a significantly more pronounced total and peak exposure to bright light that's going to correlate with 33% reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a more natural rhythm of melatonin and a reduced risk of minor psychiatric disorders and depressive symptoms (MA) in the evening.

    That's at least what the results of a recent study from the UFRGS in Porto Alegre indicates (Harb. 2014). A study the authors of which proudly say that their "study demonstrated that not only may light pollution affect human physiology but also lack of exposure to natural light is related to high levels of cortisol and lower levels of melatonin at night, and these, in turn, are related to depressive symptoms and poor quality of sleep" (Harb. 2014).
  • If you want to light up the darkness, when it's actually time to sleep do it with green (555nm) or red, not blue light, which suppresses melatonin (Bonmati-Carrion. 2014).
    Staying away from nightly night exposure may also help to keep your arteries clean even in the old age - Studies indicate that even after  adjustment for confounding factors, including age, gender, body mass index, current smoking status, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, sleep medication, estimated glomerular filtration rate, nocturia, bedtime, duration in bed (scotoperiod), day length (photoperiod), urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin excretion and daytime and nighttime physical activity, exposure to light at night is associated with carotid intima-media thickness (Obayashi. 2014).

    If you don't want to develop subclinical carotid atherosclerosis, when you are old, it would thus be a good idea to adhere to the basic rules of sleep hygiene: a dark room and/or blindfolds will keep your arteries clean and may thus save your life ;-)
  • If you have kidney problems, get out in the sun if you want to survive - Scientists from the University of California Irvine Medical Center were able to show that dialysis patients residing in higher UV index regions have lower all-cause mortality compared to those living in moderate-high UV regions (Shapiro. 2014).

    More specifically, the ~60year-old subjects residing in moderate-high UV index regions had a 16% reduced risk of all-cause mortality. Those living in very-high UV index regions had a 1% higher risk reduction (17%). Interestingly, there was a similar inverse association between UV index and mortality was observed across all subgroups, but it was more pronounced among whites vs. non-whites.
  • Wear those shades (or bluelight blocker glasses) before any important sport event - Why? Stupid question. If you dabble around with your smartphone "unprotected" the evening before an important sport event for only 30 minutes, this can influence exercise performance under hot conditions during the subsequent early morning (Thompson. 2014).
Even brief light exposure, when your eyes are closed messes with your circadian rhythm.
Pah, when your eyes are closed, light is not a problem, right? Wrong. Even ,illisecond flashes of light phase delay the human circadian clock during sleep. While a greater number of matched subjects and more research will be necessary to ascertain whether these light flashes affect sleep, data from a recent study from the California Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center suggest that 2-msec light flashes given every 30 sec have an effect on the circadian rhythm of healthy volunteers. And while Zeitzer et al. (2014) tried to use the flashes to modify the rhythm in a beneficial way, the exact opposite can also be the case. It all depends on how / when you are exposed to light when you sleep.
Sleep disturbance and adaptive immunity. Following a night of sleep loss, or during a period of sleep disturbance, nerve fibers from the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) release the neurotransmitter norepinephrine into primary and secondary lymphoid organs and stimulate the adrenal gland to release stored epinephrine into systemic circulation. Both neuromediators stimulate leukocyte adrenergic receptors (e.g., ADRB2) and activate nuclear factor (NF)-κB-mediated inflammatory programs (Irwin. 2015).
  • If your grandparent's have Alzheimer's install a timer-based light system - This may not just increase their sleep quality, but it will also improve their behavior and mood as indicated by reduced depression scores on the Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia and agitation scores from the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (Figueiro. 2014).

    I must warn you, though: The recent field study from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is promising, but the results should be replicated using a larger sample size and perhaps using longer treatment duration.
  • If you have to work night shifts consider using 1-5mg melatonin 1h before you go to bed - Why? You have to counter the natural decline in melatonin production that occurs over consecutive days of night work (Dumont. 2014).

    In a recent study from the Sacre-Coeur Hospital of Montreal the melatonin production of the healthy volunteers decreased progressively decreased over consecutive days of simulated night work, both during nighttime and over the 24 h. Interestingly, this decrease was larger in women using oral contraceptives and independent of bright light exposure.
  • Get out into the sun and cure your back pain - If your back hurts and neither you or your doctor have a clue why, try getting into the sun. A study from the UMIT in Austria shows that only three sessions in front of 5.000 lx lamp improved the depressive symptoms and reduced the pain intensity in CNBP adults with chronic nonspecific back pain (Leichtfried. 2014).
One of the side effects of blue light LED exposure (open circles) in the PM is a sign., but practically prob. irrelevant reduction in energy exp. on the next morning (Kayaba. 2014).
Bottom line: I really hope that I do not have to sum up the results for you. I mean, it should be obvious that sleep hygiene at night and light exposure at day are among the most important factors of the lifestyle-factors in the exercise + nutriton + lifestyle solution to perfect health & obesity protection (Partonen. 2014).

Against that background I would like to use the last lines to put another emphasis on the results of the recent study by Kayaba et al. (2014) which found that one of the negative consequences smartphone junkies have to suffer on the morning after using their devices before bed is a reduction in energy expenditure.

If you take a look at the data in the figure at the right (open circles = exposed; full circles = non-exposed), you will yet realize that this probably isn't the worst side effect of blue-LED light exposure in the evening. The reduction is significant in the AM, yes, but on its own it's not practically relevant | Comment on Facebook!
  • Bonmati-Carrion, Maria Angeles, et al. "Protecting the Melatonin Rhythm through Circadian Healthy Light Exposure." International Journal of Molecular Sciences 15.12 (2014): 23448-23500.
  • Diepen, Hester C., et al. "Caffeine increases light responsiveness of the mouse circadian pacemaker." European Journal of Neuroscience 40.10 (2014): 3504-3511.
  • Dumont, Marie, and Jean Paquet. "Progressive decrease of melatonin production over consecutive days of simulated night work." Chronobiology international 0 (2014): 1-8.
  • Figueiro, Mariana G., et al. "Tailored lighting intervention improves measures of sleep, depression, and agitation in persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia living in long-term care facilities." Clinical interventions in aging 9 (2014): 1527.
  • Fukushige, Haruna, et al. "Effects of tryptophan-rich breakfast and light exposure during the daytime on melatonin secretion at night." breast cancer 4 (2014): 9.
  • Harb, Francine, Maria Paz Hidalgo, and Betina Martau. "Lack of exposure to natural light in the workspace is associated with physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms." Chronobiology international 0 (2014): 1-8. 
  • Irwin Michael, R. "Why Sleep Is Important for Health: A Psychoneuroimmunology Perspective." Annual Review of Psychology 66 (2015): 143-172.
  • Kayaba, Momoko, et al. "The effect of nocturnal blue light exposure from light-emitting diodes on wakefulness and energy metabolism the following morning." Environmental health and preventive medicine 19.5 (2014): 354-361. 
  • Leichtfried, Veronika, et al. "Short‐Term Effects of Bright Light Therapy in Adults with Chronic Nonspecific Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Pain Medicine 15.12 (2014): 2003-2012.
  • Obayashi, Kenji, Keigo Saeki, and Norio Kurumatani. "Light exposure at night is associated with subclinical carotid atherosclerosis in the general elderly population: The HEIJO-KYO cohort." Chronobiology international 0 (2014): 1-8.
  • Okamoto, Yosuke, and Seiji Nakagawa. "Effects of daytime light exposure on cognitive brain activity as measured by the ERP P300." Physiology & behavior 138 (2015): 313-318.
  • Partonen, Timo. "Obesity= physical activity+ dietary intake+ sleep stages+ light exposure." Annals of medicine 46.5 (2014): 245-246.
  • Shapiro, Bryan B., et al. "The Relationship Between Ultraviolet Light Exposure and Mortality in Dialysis Patients." American journal of nephrology 40.3 (2014): 224-232. 
  • Thompson, A., et al. "The Effects of Evening Bright Light Exposure on Subsequent Morning Exercise Performance." International journal of sports medicine EFirst (2014).
  • van der Lely, Stéphanie, et al. "Blue blocker glasses as a countermeasure for alerting effects of evening light-emitting diode screen exposure in male teenagers." Journal of Adolescent Health (2014).
  • Virginie, Gabel, et al. "Dawn simulation light impacts on different cognitive domains under sleep restriction." Behavioural Brain Research (2014).
  • Wang, et al. "UV light selectively inhibits spinal cord inflammation and demyelination in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis." Arch Biochem Biophys. (2014). [Epub ahead of print]
  • Zeitzer, Jamie M., et al. "Millisecond Flashes of Light Phase Delay the Human Circadian Clock during Sleep." Journal of biological rhythms (2014): 0748730414546532.
Disclaimer:The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. It is by no means intended as professional medical advice. Do not use any of the agents or freely available dietary supplements mentioned on this website without further consultation with your medical practitioner.