How sunrise, sunset impact our circadian rhythms

How sunrise, sunset impact our circadian rhythms

It’s no wonder Alaskans keep track of the sunrise and sunset — it helps keep our rhythms in check.

Researchers at the University of Washington say that wavelengths during sunrise and sunset have the greatest influence on our brains when it comes to regulating our circadian rhythms.

According the National Sleep Foundation, your circadian rhythm is a “24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.”

The university’s findings were published in “Current Biology” and identifies a cell in the retina, which the university says helps signal the part of our brains that regulates circadian rhythms, boost alertness, help memory and cognitive function, and elevate mood.

“These effects have been attributed to a pigment in the eye called melanopsin, which is sensitive to blue light, but researchers say cone photoreceptors are a thousand times more sensitive to light than melanopsin,” a release from the university stated . “The cone photoreceptor inputs to the circadian circuity respond to short wavelength blue light, but they also respond strongly to long wavelength oranges and yellows and contrasting light – the colors at sunrise and sunset.” Lead author Sara Patterson, a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said how changes in the color of light affect our brain has not been studied a lot.

“In the process we found that there’s a few other cells that are also receiving this blue cone input and potentially more uses for color vision, not for color perception, but for other purposes,” she said. “These cells are projecting to other areas in the brain doing unknown functions and we’re very excited to figure out what those cells are doing and how it’s relevant for our vision.”

So what about those mood lights that are common in Alaska during winter? They’re hundreds of times brighter than normal lights commonly used — and they help.

“But we’re thinking about the fact that maybe just the regular lights that people have in their office or their room or get up in their bathroom in the morning and get some good light that’s going to be healthy for you,” said Jay Neitz, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

The research was born out of their interest in the health benefits of natural light.

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