Special lights fool your brain into thinking its day time

Truckers are vital to the U.S. economy, transporting much needed goods and services across the country.  However, in order to make a decent living, they always try to push the boundaries, sleeping less and driving more.  The end result is occasionally they fall asleep on the road, sometimes with tragic results.

Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York believe they may have come up with a new solution that will help keep truckers and other endurance drivers awake on the road long enough to get to the next rest stop.  The trick is to install blue wavelength LEDs in truck cabs. 

Particular wavelengths of blue light when shined on the drivers trick the drivers brain into thinking its daytime and staying active.  By resetting their internal clocks, the number of fatal accidents could be greatly reduced, potentially.  In the U.S., according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 30 percent of all fatal accidents involving large trucks occur at night.  In the U.K. this number is even higher with nearly half the total fatal accidents being caused by fatigue.

Mariana Faguiero, co-author of the white paper published by the light research center, states, "The concept of using light to boost alertness is well established [in other areas].  Translating that understanding into a practical application is the next challenge."

Ms. Faguiero says the critical point is finding practical ways to apply the findings.  She says that the lights could be installed directly in truck cabs.  Or, she suggests, the lights could be placed at rest stops, allowing truckers to take half hour "light showers" allowing them to reawaken.

Her team is further investigated how the light differentially affects sleep-deprived and non-sleep deprived subjects during daytime hours.  She states, "These findings will also be applicable to transportation applications, since the accident rates during the afternoon hours are still higher than in the morning hours."

The results have been promising on both categories.  She states, "After 45 minutes there is a clear effect.  You start to see a beautiful increase in brain activity in the 300 milliseconds response, which is a measure of alertness."

For those curious of the technical details, the current implementation emits light diffusely at 470 nanometers and 40 lux.  Researchers plan to further test varying wavelengths from 450 up to 470 nanometers at 2.5, 5, and 7.5 lux.  They are working to build a pair of goggles that truckers could also use to deliver alertness.  Additionally they are working to apply the technology to Alzheimer's patients to restore their natural circadian rhythms and minimize their night restlessness.

Current car systems monitor driver's eye movements and try to awaken drivers who nod off with noise.  The new system is far more effective as it combats the problem at its source.  However, Jim Horne, director of the sleep research center at Loughborough University, UK, warns that it will likely only be a temporary fix, not a permanent solution.  He warns, "Shifting [sleep patterns] by eight hours takes at least 10 days, and very few people are capable of doing that."

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