Dim Lights Could Impair Cognitive Skills – [New Research]

Written by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Dim Lights Could Impair Cognitive Skills

Dim lights are perceived calming and romantic. Couples enjoy having romantic dinners with candles and dim lights, introverts find them a great way to de-stress and set the mood they truly like.

Clubs and many other places also dim lights to improve the atmosphere. At a first glance, there is nothing wrong about this, but the latest study found those cute, romantic dim lights could be bad news for our brain.

Dim Lights and Brain

Previous research has confirmed that light influences cognitive abilities. For example, brighter lights prove to be beneficial for the cognitive performance of school children, patients in early stages of dementia, and healthy adults.

Although the link between lights and cognitive skills is well-documented, the underlying mechanisms were poorly understood.

A group of researchers at the Michigan State University in East Lansing carried out a study whose main objective was to examine how ambient light affects hippocampal function.

To get their answers, scientists used Nile grass rats housed in either a 12:12h bright light-dark or dim-light dark setting for four weeks. Nile grass rats are interesting animals, they sleep at night and are awake during the day, just like humans.

The journal Hippocampus[1] published results of the study which found that rats exposed to dim light exhibited impairment in spatial memory. In addition, they had a 30% decrease in their hippocampi.

Hippocampus is a region of the brain that is associated with memory, primarily storage of long-term memories, but it is also responsible for the memory of the location of objects or people.

Some animals from the dim light group also exhibited decreased levels of a brain peptide called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which usually helps neurons to communicate with one another in the hippocampus. The primary goal of this peptide is to ensure connections between neurons are healthy and functioning.

What Do these Findings Mean?

A simple explanation would be that dim lights make us dim. Although interesting, results of the study aren’t shocking.

After all, bright lights are associated with improved cognitive skills so it was only logical to assume that dim lights would decrease them.

In fact, this research also revealed[2] that mice exposed to brighter lights seemed to be “brighter” and performed better on spatial orientation tasks.

What makes this study, and its findings, unique is the fact it pointed to a potential mechanism by which lights influence cognition. In this case, it is the decrease of the peptide, 30% reduction in the hippocampus, and weaker spatial memory.

Lead author of the study, Joel Soler who is a doctoral graduate in psychology, explained that dim lights decrease the number of connections being made in the brain.

This leads to diminished learning, memory performance, and other processes that involve hippocampus.

Fortunately, when mice from the dim lights group were exposed to brighter lights for four weeks, their cognitive performance improved.

The finding not only confirms the influence of lights on brain power, but it shows that an ambient change could improve our brain function.

Brain Function

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Light has an impact on our brain and cognitive abilities, but the underlying mechanisms were poorly understood.

The latest study revealed that dim lights decrease the levels of brain peptide, affect the hippocampus, and lead to fewer connections in the brain. This causes poor memory and other skills that involve hippocampus.

Image Credits
Featured Image Credit: istockphoto.com
In-post Image Credit: businessinsider.com

Contributor : Dr. Ahmed Zayed ()

This Article Has Been Published on February 15, 2018 and Last Modified on December 10, 2018

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain Shams University. You can connect with him on Linkedin.

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