Blue-light therapy shows promising results in healing the brain.
Researchers at the University of Arizona gave individuals with a mild traumatic brain injury daily morning light therapy over a six-week period. One group received blue light therapy and the placebo group amber light. The results were very promising, showing sleep and brain structure improvements.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep has a significant effect on cognitive functioning. A lack of sleep leads to diminished cognitive performance. During sleep our brains repair themselves, including flushing out accumulated neurotoxins and restoring damaged neurons. We know that individuals suffering from cognitive diseases like dementia often have sleep problems. Likewise, around 50% of individuals with mild brain injury also have sleep disorders.
This is important as animal models show that sleep plays a vital role in recovering from brain injuries. This study shows sleep plays an important and similar role for the human brain.
Circadian Rhythms and Sleep
Almost every cell in the human body responds to the circadian clock. When light strikes the retina, the circadian clock is reset. The retina is particularly sensitive to blue light. Thus, exposure to blue light in the morning resets the circadian rhythm and encourages earlier sleep onset. This improves sleep patterns.
Circadian rhythms also play an important role in the quality and quantity of our sleep. When sleep patterns are disrupted, individuals no longer sleep fully through the night. This is very challenging for individuals who have a brain injury as lack of sleep negatively impacts cognitive recovery.
Blue-light therapy is used to reset the circadian rhythms and assist individuals to shift their sleep patterns. [Nine Things You Can Do To Improve Sleep]. The evidence in this study is clear. Almost 88% of the individuals who received the blue-light therapy reduced their daytime sleepiness compared with 38% in the placebo group. They also improved in their executive functioning and went to sleep earlier in the evening.
One of the most interesting aspects of this most recent research with blue-light therapy was the change in the cognitive structure and healing of the brain. In this study, gray matter volume was compared over a six-week period. Those individuals receiving the blue light had an increase in brain volume. As well, the blue light had a positive effect on neural pathway connections.
Blue-light therapy may facilitate injury recovery and is a promising development for the treatment of mild traumatic brain injury. It also suggests other therapeutic possibilities, and deserves more research into the treatment of mild cognitive impairment and the early stages of dementia.