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You're Still Afraid of the Dark... Sorry

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Imagine if every light around you was suddenly turned out. How would you react? With laughter, bemusement, nonchalance? I hate to have to break it you, but somewhere inside you're terrified.

Fear of the dark is generally considered to be a childish anxiety that we grow out of, but recent research claims that we're biologically hardwired to be on alert when the dark descends. In fact, lighting of all kinds affects you more than you might be aware. Scientists have even explored the role of light in the process of mind control, and (you guessed it) it works pretty well. So, that innocent light bulb above your head is not as innocent at it may seem; and it might be doing things to your body that could well surprise you.

We're diurnal creatures designed to work best in daylight and this means light has a direct impact on the inner workings of our bodies. For our bodies light works as a 'zeitgeber' which is German for 'time giver' or 'synchronizer'. It tells our body when to sleep and wake up, when to release hormones, what temperature we should be at and other functions as part of our circadian rhythm (or body clock). All this means that lighting can hugely affect what's going on inside, which in turn affects our behaviour in the outside world.

This is why lighting in the workplace is such a big thing. It might sound like a boring topic, but employers who take time to invest in good lighting save on losses and increase productivity. One study by Cornell University showed that 24% of workers experienced a loss of work time due to poor lighting which amounted to about 15 minutes wasted per day, per worker. Approximately, this is the equivalent of giving every worker an extra week's paid holiday each year.

But it's not just concentration which is improved by proper lighting; your emotions are hugely wrapped up in how many lumens your eyes are taking in. When the lights go down, melatonin or the "hormone of darkness, as it's dramatically nicknamed, kicks in. This hormone gets you ready for bedtime; it winds down the body, slows the mind and calls time on the hectic day-to-day stuff. It's also a powerful antioxidant which assists with tissue regeneration during sleep; no bad thing. The problem is when melatonin release starts when you're still on day mode. In this instance it can make you feel sluggish, make it extremely hard to concentrate and pretty much turn you into a walking zombie. You're entire internal mechanism is trying to shut down and go to sleep whilst you're trying to carry on with daily life, and the net result is increased anxiety. In its most extreme form, an off-kilter circadian rhythm can result in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where, during dimmer, winter months affected individuals suffer depression akin to that experienced during Major Depressive Disorder. To treat SAD, light boxes are often prescribed which produce artificial light from in-built fluorescent tubes to ease symptoms.

It's not just in the world of mental health problems that light can help though; it's been proven to assist general healing with all kinds of illnesses. A study looking into the use of light in hospitals reported that patients exposed to a lot of light during recovery experienced less perceived stress and pain, taking 22% less analgesic medication per hour with 21% less pain medication cost incurred. And recent research has taken light treatment to the next level.

Based on our knowledge of how algae react to light via light sensitive molecules, scientists have explored the possibility of genetically altering specific cells in the brain so they react to light. The technology could provide the gateway to developing revolutionary new treatments for Alzheimer's, other psychiatric illnesses. Amazingly, the technology may even allow people to make new memories.

Sound a bit like mind control? Well though the above research aims to develop new treatments, other researchers in the world of optogenetics have discovered that light stimuli to mice's brains can produce unadulterated aggression at the flick of a switch. But we're a little different from mice, surely? Mice, maybe, but moths? Not so much. A few decades ago scientists carried out an experiment asking people to take one of two paths. When under equal lighting 69% went right; when the left side was lit better 75% of people went left, so like moths to a flame participants were seduced by the brightest path. Light then has significant influence on our daily decision making process. With all this in mind, dare you take another look up at that light bulb?

Ed is the marketing manager for LampShopOnline - visit their website or follow them on Twitter

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