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Open Access Short Report

Implications of controlled short-wavelength light exposure for sleep in older adults

Mariana G Figueiro*, Natalia Z Lesniak and Mark S Rea

Author Affiliations

Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 21 Union Street/3rd floor, Troy, NY, 12180, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:334  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-334

Published: 8 September 2011



Environmental and physiological conditions make older adults more likely to lose synchronization to their local time and experience sleep disturbances. A regular, 24-hour light/dark cycle promotes synchronization. It is now well established that the circadian system is maximally sensitive to short-wavelength (blue) light. The purpose of the present study was to measure dose effectiveness (amounts and durations) of short-wavelength (blue) light for stimulating the circadian systems of older adults. We investigated the impact of six corneal irradiances (0.7 to 72 μW/cm2) of 470-nm light on nocturnal melatonin production. Nine participants, each over 50 years of age completed a within-subjects study. Each week, participants were exposed to one of the six irradiances of 470-nm light for 90 minutes.


A two-factor (6 corneal irradiances × 10 exposure durations), within-subjects analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted using the melatonin suppression levels. The ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of corneal irradiance (F5, 30 = 9.131, p < 0.0001), a significant main effect of exposure duration (F9, 54 = 5.731, p < 0.0001), and a significant interaction between these two variables (F45,270 = 1.927, p < 0.001). Post hoc t-tests revealed that corneal irradiances as low as 2 μW/cm2 reliably suppressed melatonin after 90-minute exposure whereas 0.7 μW/cm2 did not.


Sleep disorders are common and a serious problem for millions of older adults. The present results showed that comfortable, precise and effective doses of light can be prescribed to older adults to reliably stimulate the circadian system that presumably would promote entrainment and, thus, regular sleep. Field studies on the impact of short-wavelength-light doses on sleep efficiency in older adults should be performed.