Mind & Body

You Should Never Work in a Dimly Lit Room

Want a romantic vibe? Light a few candles and turn the lights down low. Want a vibe that promotes any sort of productivity? Definitely crank the lights all the way up.

Related Video: This Is How Your Brain Grows

Dude, Where's My Light?

Ditch the moody coffeehouse if you're looking for a spot to get some work done. According to a study by Michigan State University researchers, spending too much time in dimly lit rooms may hurt your ability to remember and learn. The research, published in February 2018 and funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range regularly experienced by people, leads to structural changes in the brain. Seeing as Americans spend about 90 percent of time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, this is applicable news.

For the study, researchers looked at Nile grass rats, which, like humans, sleep at night and are active during the day. The rats were exposed to bright or dim light for four weeks. After the four weeks, the dim-light group lost about 30 percent capacity in the hippocampus, a region of the brain critical for learning and memory, and performed badly on a spatial task they were previously trained on. The bright-light group, however, showed significant improvement on this task. Luckily for our dim light group, their brain capacity and task performance completely bounced back after being exposed to bright light for four weeks (after a month-long break).

"When we exposed the rats to dim light, mimicking the cloudy days of Midwestern winters or typical indoor lighting, the animals showed impairments in spatial learning," Antonio Nunez, psychology professor and co-investigator on the study, said in a press release. "This is similar to when people can't find their way back to their cars in a busy parking lot after spending a few hours in a shopping mall or movie theater." Been there.

Dimwits

So are dark rooms making us dumb? That conclusion isn't too far off. The researchers found that a lot of exposure to dim light led to huge reductions in something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a peptide that helps keep neurons in the memory-centric hippocampus healthy, and in dendritic spines, the connections that help neurons "talk" to each other.

"Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus," Joel Soler, a doctoral graduate student in psychology and lead study author, said in a press release. "In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits."

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Written by Joanie Faletto February 28, 2018

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