New research from West Virginia University suggests too much light, instead of too little, may cause depression in hospitalized individuals.
Researchers Randy Nelson and Courtney DeVries at the Department of Neuroscience in the WVU School of Medicine studied two groups of mice for three nights. One group was exposed to total darkness, while the other was exposed to dim light – the equivalent of a child’s night light.
The researchers found that the mice exposed to the dim light exhibited more “depressive-like” behaviors than the ones that spent their nights in the dark. The mice exposed to dim light showed smaller amounts of a molecule associated with blood-vessel growth in the hippocampus – a part of the brain that regulates emotions.
“We’re trying to mimic what happens in intensive care units,” said Nelson in a press release from the university. Nelson chairs the Department of Neuroscience.
The researchers hope the findings can be used to explore how light at night affects the mood of people who are hospitalized. People in intensive care units are often never exposed to a fully dark room while receiving treatment.
The researchers are investigating whether different lighting schemes, such as an ICU light that shifts from a bright, bluish white light during the day to a warmer tone at night, might prevent or reverse the depressive symptoms they observed in the mice. They also hope to expand their research to include human trials.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.