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Behav Brain Res. 2011 Oct 31;224(2):272-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2011.05.029. Epub 2011 Jun 1.

Effects on subjective and objective alertness and sleep in response to evening light exposure in older subjects.

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  • 1Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Evening bright light exposure is reported to ameliorate daytime sleepiness and age-related sleep complaints, and also delays the timing of circadian rhythms. We tested whether evening light exposure given to older adults with sleep-wake complaints would delay the timing of their circadian rhythms with respect to their sleep timing, thereby reducing evening sleepiness and improving subsequent sleep quality. We examined the impact of evening light exposure from two different light sources on subjective alertness, EEG activity during wakefulness, and sleep stages. Ten healthy older adults with sleep complaints (mean age=63.3 years; 6F) participated in a 13-day study. After three baseline days, circadian phase was assessed. On the evening of days 5-8 the subjects were exposed for 2h to either polychromatic blue-enriched white light or standard white fluorescent light, and on the following day circadian phase was re-assessed. Subjects were allowed to leave the laboratory during all but the two days when the circadian phase assessment took place. Evening assessments of subjective alertness, and wake and sleep EEG data were analyzed. Subjective alertness and wake EEG activity in the alpha range (9.75-11.25 Hz) were significantly higher during light exposures when compared to the pre-light exposure evening (p<0.05). The light exposures produced circadian phase shifts and significantly prolonged latency to rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep for both light groups (p<0.05). The increase in wake EEG alpha activity during the light exposures was negatively correlated with REM sleep duration (p<0.05). Evening light exposure could benefit older adults with early evening sleepiness, without negatively impacting the subsequent sleep episode.

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