Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Exposure to light at night may cause depression, learning issues, mouse study suggests

Date:
November 14, 2012
Source:
Johns Hopkins
Summary:
For most of history, humans rose with the sun and slept when it set. Enter Thomas Edison and colleagues, and with a flick of a switch, night became day, enabling us to work, play and post cat and kid photos on Facebook into the wee hours. According to a new study of mice, however, this typical 21st-century scenario may come at a serious cost: When people routinely burn the midnight oil, they risk suffering depression and learning issues, and not only because of lack of sleep. The culprit could also be exposure to bright light at night from lamps, computers and even iPads.

When people routinely burn the midnight oil, they risk suffering depression and learning issues, and not only because of lack of sleep. The culprit could also be exposure to bright light at night from lamps, computers and even iPads.
Credit: Inga Nielsen / Fotolia

For most of history, humans rose with the sun and slept when it set. Enter Thomas Edison and colleagues, and with a flick of a switch, night became day, enabling us to work, play and post cat and kid photos on Facebook into the wee hours.

Related Articles


According to a new study of mice led by a Johns Hopkins biologist, however, this typical 21st-century scenario may come at a serious cost: When people routinely burn the midnight oil, they risk suffering depression and learning issues, and not only because of lack of sleep. The culprit could also be exposure to bright light at night from lamps, computers and even iPads.

"Basically, what we found is that chronic exposure to bright light -- even the kind of light you experience in your own living room at home or in the workplace at night if you are a shift worker -- elevates levels of a certain stress hormone in the body, which results in depression and lowers cognitive function," said Samer Hattar, a biology professor in the Johns Hopkins University's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Published in the Nov. 14 advance online publication of the journal Nature, the mice study demonstrates how special cells in the eye (called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, or ipRGCs) are activated by bright light, affecting the brain's center for mood, memory and learning.

But the study involved mice, so why are we talking about humans? Hattar offers some insight: "Mice and humans are actually very much alike in many ways, and one is that they have these ipRGCs in their eyes, which affect them the same way," he said. "In addition, in this study, we make reference to previous studies on humans, which show that light does, indeed, impact the human brain's limbic system. And the same pathways are in place in mice."

The scientists knew that shorter days in the winter cause some people to develop a form of depression known as "seasonal affective disorder" and that some patients with this mood disorder benefit from "light therapy," which is simple, regular exposure to bright light.

Hattar's team, led by graduate students Tara LeGates and Cara Altimus, posited that mice would react the same way, and tested their theory by exposing laboratory rodents to a cycle consisting of 3.5 hours of light and then 3.5 hours of darkness. Previous studies using this cycle showed that it did not disrupt the mice's sleep cycles, but Hattar's team found that it did cause the animals to develop depression-like behaviors.

"Of course, you can't ask mice how they feel, but we did see an increase in depression-like behaviors, including a lack of interest in sugar or pleasure seeking, and the study mice moved around far less during some of the tests we did," he said. "They also clearly did not learn as quickly or remember tasks as well. They were not as interested in novel objects as were mice on a regular light-darkness cycle schedule."

The animals also had increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that has been linked in numerous previous studies with learning issues. Treatment with Prozac, a commonly prescribed anti-depressant, mitigated the symptoms, restoring the mice to their previous healthy moods and levels of learning, and bolstering the evidence that their learning issues were caused by depression.

According to Hattar, the results indicate that humans should be wary of the kind of prolonged, regular exposure to bright light at night that is routine in our lives, because it may be having a negative effect on our mood and ability to learn.

"I'm not saying we have to sit in complete darkness at night, but I do recommend that we should switch on fewer lamps, and stick to less-intense light bulbs: Basically, only use what you need to see. That won't likely be enough to activate those ipRGCs that affect mood," he advises.

This study was supported by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins. The original article was written by Lisa De Nike. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tara A. LeGates, Cara M. Altimus, Hui Wang, Hey-Kyoung Lee, Sunggu Yang, Haiqing Zhao, Alfredo Kirkwood, E. Todd Weber, Samer Hattar. Aberrant light directly impairs mood and learning through melanopsin-expressing neurons. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11673

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins. "Exposure to light at night may cause depression, learning issues, mouse study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121114133921.htm>.
Johns Hopkins. (2012, November 14). Exposure to light at night may cause depression, learning issues, mouse study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121114133921.htm
Johns Hopkins. "Exposure to light at night may cause depression, learning issues, mouse study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121114133921.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins