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Stimulate your melanopsin ganglion cells if you want a better night’s sleep

We just finished slogging our way through this article from Science News. It's well worth a read, but it's pretty tough going so let us sum it up for you here. Basically, the article explains how light affects sleep patterns and how you can use light to get a better night's sleep by influencing the body's circadian rhythm. Although aimed at helping teenagers to sleep better, the science seems relevant to all regardless of age.

Apparently, a few years ago, scientists discovered another type of light-sensitive cell in the eye - melanopsin ganglion cells. It is thought that these cells send their signals directly to the body's master clock, meaning light exposure has even more influence over how we sleep.

The article cites a study aimed at determining how exposure to blue light (sunlight) affects the circadian clocks of middle school students.

Half of the students in the group wore orange-tinted goggles during morning school hours for one week. The glasses allowed enough light for the students to see, but blocked blue light coming in through skylights. Students in the other group had full access to daylight.

The findings?

After five days, the students who wore goggles began producing melatonin 30 minutes later than students in the no-goggles group. Thirty minutes may not sound like much, but the difference could be seen: Kids who wore goggles got sleepy later in the evening and stayed up later. They were also less alert during the day and scored lower on the performance tests.

Melatonin helps prepare us for sleep - it's an important hormone and one most insomnia sufferers will be aware of.

We found the article very interesting and if you have a spare ten minutes or so, we'd recommend giving it a read - especially if you have a teenager who struggles with insomnia.

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Last updated: April 30, 2010

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

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