As children we used night lights to scare away “monsters,” and as adults we use them to find our way in the night.
Now, Alzheimer’s patients may use a specific type of blue light to reset their internal clocks in order to sleep better.
Alzheimer’s Resets the Circadian Rhythm
Many Alzheimer’s patients have a disrupted circadian rhythm so their sleep cycle is off, leaving them awake at night and tired during the day.
Dr. Guerman Ermolenko, a geriatric psychiatrist, and Mariana Figueiro, from the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, have been working together to examine the effects of blue light therapy on Alzheimer’s patients. They believe that lights with a bluish tint, used during the day, can help regulate the circadian rhythm.
The blue light tells the circadian rhythm to “wake up,” thus regulating an internal clock and helping people with Alzheimer’s stay awake during the day and sleep better at night. Researchers believe the blue light simulates the blue of the sky, triggering the wake up call. Using blue lights during the day may also increase melatonin at night, increasing quality and quantity of sleep.
How Blue Light May Help Alzheimer’s Patients
To examine the effects of blue lights on Alzheimer’s patients, Ermolenko and Figueiro placed a table that radiates a blue light in the Albany County Nursing Home. Two of the women who were not sleeping at night sat at the table during the day and are now sleeping through the night.
It is important to note that the blue light has also been found to be too stimulating for some Alzheimer’s patients, who have to decrease the amount of blue light and increase the amount of yellow light in a room.
Previous light therapy studies on Alzheimer’s have also shown mixed results. One recent study showed that light therapy could improve sleep efficiency in some Alzheimer’s patients, but not all.
The researchers hope to expand their study by putting blue light lamps in the rooms of patients during the day. They also hope their findings translate to architects and builders, so that lighting can be an important consideration of the building process of senior communities.
Have you tried blue light therapy to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.