Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Stimulating The Brain, Banishing Sleep

"When sleep is not synchronized with our internal clock, or circadian rhythms, we know people get a lot of mood problems -- irritability or fatigue, sometimes anxiety."
"The conventional thinking has always been that timed light therapy at the appropriate time can help resynchronize our circadian rhythms." 
"Conventionally, for treatment, we use white light because white light has all the wavelengths. So, we're getting everything there, and that's generally been shown to be effective for treatment."
"Patient populations that should be particularly cautious about light therapy are those who are sensitive to light due to medical conditions such as eye conditions, certain diseases ... patients with a history of rapid cycling bipolar disorder, or patients with a history of migraine headaches."
"Teenagers might be more vulnerable to the circadian effects than adults. It's like a double hit. You're giving the most potent exposure to the most vulnerable people."
"This is one of several messages we try to get out: Take these things seriously because the effect is tangible and noticeable."
Dr. Elliott Lee, assistant professor, sleep specialist, Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

Now there's some important advice to the general public almost universally addicted to iphones and computer-driven devices that consume our interest and drive our attention in a monoculture of Internet-derived entertainment: Cut back on evening screen time; no backlit screens within at least an hour, 60 minutes -- oh the agony of deprivation -- of bedtime. If you must, simply must cling to your personal favourite, cannot-live-without device, use the Night Shift option for however much benefit it can claim, which research doesn't appear to validate.

Light, natural light, sunlight, governs our days; our natural body rhythm is attuned daylight; it awakens us as dawn arrives and puts us to sleep when night has fallen. The structure of our physical, mental and behavioural tempo is hugely reliant on our circadian rhythm; we are with and of nature.
Which is to say, it is not only humans so affected but all living organisms. Those living in northern latitudes are particularly susceptible to the lack of natural light, when during winter months we are bereft of it with shorter days, longer nights.

And this where a phenomenon linked entirely to the seasons, brings us a condition named 'seasonal affective disorder', SAD, and sad it is indeed; discomfiting, troubling, disruptive to our normal state of being. The mood disorder that descends when hours of light are diminished and the sun's warmth decreased, places us into the thrall of a mood disorder that is capable of making us quite depressed, and certainly interferes with our sleep patterns.

Could I have SAD?

  • I feel like sleeping all the time, or I’m having trouble getting a good night’s sleep
  • I’m tired all the time, it makes it hard for me to carry out daily tasks
  • My appetite has changed, particularly more cravings for sugary and starchy foods
  • I’m gaining weight
  • I feel sad, guilty and down on myself
  • I feel hopeless
  • I’m irritable
  • I’m avoiding people or activities I used to enjoy
  • I feel tense and stressed
  • I’ve lost interest in sex and other physical contact  CMHA British Columbia
According to Dr. Lee, up to ten percent of the population suffers some form of SAD, and he should know, since his profession is geared to understanding and helping sufferers cope with the condition. One that has the potential to lead toward seriously dysfunctional impairment during winter months, including the desperation of suicide. A milder variant of SAD, known popularly as 'the winter blues' affects another ten to twenty percent of the population. And Dr. Lee and his associates recognize and continue to investigate the benefits (and limitations) of light as therapy, or light-therapy.

Artificial light, that is. It is a therapy gaining traction as an option to treat people presenting with mood disorders; depression in particular, irrespective of the seasonal variances of natural light. Recent research at the University of British Columbia points to light therapy promising benefits beyond its function in correcting circadian rhythm issues, to a more multi-purpose benefit. Some experts believe the blue wavelength of light significantly influences circadian rhythms, while others argue for the green wavelength's potency.

However, as Dr. Lee points out, white light contains all the required wavelengths for efficacy, with treatment consisting of white lights' availability in commercial panels next to a work desk. Absorbed through the pupils, white light hits light-sensitive receptors at the back of the eye functioning to alter circadian rhythms responding to light. No prescription is required to embark on personal light therapy, since light boxes are attainable commercially and relatively inexpensively.

As with all such protocols, including pharmaceutical regimens, there are side effects. Light therapy may include headaches and eye strain, which Dr. Lee recommends are reason to discontinue the use of the therapy. The need to determine optimal combinations of colour, timing, duration and intensity keeps researchers busy experimenting. Under examination as well, is the determination of who might be most responsive to light therapy.

The course regimen of a typical treatment is 30 minutes in the morning, generally between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., at a time when people are most sensitive to light effects at a luminosity of 10,000 lux (for perspective, a bright sunny day represents around 100,000 lux). During the course of an ordinary day the very use of artificial light we are so accustomed to as routine is also capable of interrupting our circadian rhythms; from watching television, working on our laptops and simply switching on lights at dusk.

Backlit screens at night sabotage sleep in two ways, according to Dr. Lee. Light emanating from a screen resets our internal clock persuading our brain that it's daytime and not nighttime, suppressing the production of melatonin, a hormone we require to enable the onset of sleep and normal body maintenance that results from sound sleep. As well, what we derive from those iphones or computers tends to be stimulating; texting people at night rouses thoughts to race ahead, when we should be in a relaxed sleep mode.
While technology allows us to complete tasks faster, and do many tasks at once, it seems we actually have less hours in a day, and we’re almost never disconnected from our devices. Until we go to sleep  The Royal, Mental Health

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