Today I came across a story published in The New York Times written by Laura Beil entitled: "In eyes, a clock calibrated by wavelengths of light". It seemed apropos for me to include this NYT article after just posting about new data indicating a role for sleep in boosting vaccine efficiency! Beil briefly, but accurately discusses the research from the University of Basel regarding how blue light (the kind strongly emitted by LED TVs, laptops, etc) enhances our alertness while inhibiting our ability to become sleepy. In short, this happens because blue light (compared to reddish/orange light like older incandescent light bulbs) slows the production of melatonin, a light-sensitive hormone that induces sleep and is critical for the maintenance of circadian rhythm (why we humans sleep at night and are awake when it's light). Biel also discusses how this new data may play a role understanding cancer progression and infection susceptibility as people are increasingly tied to electronic devices that utilize blue light.
The lead author on this paper, Christian Cajochen, is the head for the Center for Chronobiology at the University of Basel and a quick pubmed search reveals that he also recently published in Proceedings of the National Sciences (PNAS) regarding the role of serum proteins in regulating the circadian rhythms of fibroblasts (cells that are important in wound healing and disease)! Although they still don't know which protein(s), the most common in serum include: antibodies, complement (important in killing invading microbes), and albumin, it is very exciting learning that our immune system is tightly connected with nearly every physiological process including sleep and circadian rhythm maintenance!
The idea that light affects the way we sleep and that sleep can in turn modulate disease is not a new revelation, however what remains to be clear is HOW exactly this all happens. The more we research, the more we will understand the underlying mechanisms that control human disease (progression, susceptibility, and host defense ability). The role of sleep and light is just now becoming of interest in the immunology and medical research fields, with many intriguing findings! It's exciting to live in a time when there's so much quality and new research available for the public to learn about and discuss!
What's a great science-related story you've read about recently? What kind of research would you like to see more of discussed on Escaping Anergy? I appreciate all your comments and suggestions! Thanks for reading!
Cajochen C, Frey S, Anders D, Späti J, Bues M, Pross A, Mager R, Wirz-Justice A, & Stefani O (2011). Evening exposure to a light-emitting diodes (LED)-backlit computer screen affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 110 (5), 1432-8 PMID: 21415172