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New Light Bulb Design Will Help Shift Workers and World Travelers

It is well known that those who are required to work the late shift, as well as those who have to cross time zones, often face difficulties with sleep. The shift in light exposure wreaks havoc with their internal body clock and circadian rhythm, making sleep a fleeting memory. But now a Florida inventor has created a special LED bio-bulb that uses what science knows about the way that the eye receives wavelengths of light. It eliminates a small segment of blue wavelength of light, offering enough illumination to allow people to see without throwing off their body’s production of melatonin.

The scientist is Fred Maxik, founder and chief technology officer of Lighting Science Group Corporation, and his goal was to find a way to allow people to see without messing up their body’s natural rhythm. “We’re looking at a way to filter out that part of the spectrum, and still have a white light,” he says. “Our ability to restore the natural position of where we were and natural hormonal secretions is an appealing one.”

Maxik’s creation is based upon a discovery made decades ago. Scientists determined that there is a separate photoreceptor located in the eye whose job is to specifically pick up wavelengths of light and send appropriate signals to the hypothalamus. Depending upon the wavelength it perceives, the organ secretes melatonin, the hormone that tells the body that it’s time to go to sleep. Though there are already light bulbs being made that specifically add wavelengths to suppress the body’s melatonin production, there have been none that are designed to allow it to operate naturally by eliminating the wavelength that suppresses it. Maxik’s goal was to create a product that would allow people to go about their normal activities such as reading or watching television without it interfering with their ability to sleep. “You need to remove part of the light spectrum, a significant notch taken out of that, and create a light that people don’t see as something that’s unusual. It has to be something that’s natural.”

The bio-bulb is currently being tested by neurobiologist Steven Lockley of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital Sleep Center. Lockley’s clinical tests involve exposing participants to both normal light and the blue-less bulb without indicating that there is a difference to see whether it has an impact. “We’re ramping down alertness,” he says. Lockley was chosen in part because of his publication of a study that showed that melatonin production and sleep are being delayed by 90 minutes as a result of overhead fluorescent fixtures.

In addition to the bio-bulb project, Maxik is working with NASA’s life science group to try to create a special lighting system for astronauts. He hopes that the bio-bulb will be ready for market by 2017.

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