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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Are you a dim-bulb?

7 February 2018

The term "dim-bulb" is frequently used to denote someone of lower cerebral performance. A dunce, a person of lower intelligence, someone of sub-average IQ.

After reading a report today, I wonder if this piece of nomenclature was created by someone with amazing insight or whether we've just experienced some incredible coincidence.

What am I talking about?

Well a study conducted by the Michigan State University in the USA indicates that light levels are incredibly important for proper brain function in a way that few had previously considered.

Science Daily carries a story on this report and it makes very interesting reading.

Who would have thought that spending too much time in dim lighting would aversely affect brain function to the levels measured by this study?

Lab rats exposed to lower levels of lighting suffered a 30 percent loss of capacity in the hippocampus region of the brain, a region critical to many cognitive tasks such as learning and memory. This loss resulted in markedly poorer performance in spatial tasks.

Another group of rodents showed performance improvements when exposed to bright light.

The good news is that the negative effects of dim light were fully reversed on subsequent exposure to more lumens.

Perhaps this goes a long way towards explaining why most of us perform better and have a greatly improved mood during the longer, brighter days of summer than in the middle of a dark winter. SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) really is a thing and it would appear that perhaps the study referred to in this article can provide some extra insight.

Another really interesting aspect of the results produced by this study is that the function of the hippocampus is not directly affected by the light itself, but as a side-effect of the light's effect on other regions of the brain. Apparently a peptide called orexin is involved and now scientists plan to do more work to see how this peptide might be used in medicine.

There's also the possibility that this research could provide benefits for those suffering from failing cognitive function due to a number of degenerative and neurological disorders.

So do not be temped to use low-wattage lighting in your house in order to save money because you'll end up so stupid that you think you've done the right thing.

I've always demanded very high light levels in my work areas and as I type this I have a 200W halogen bulb illuminating my desk. I did try lower-output lighting but found it hard to tolerate the gloom of regular bulbs or LEDs.

One also can't help but wonder whether sleeping with the light on may have some (any) effect.

What level of lighting to readers use in their homes and work-areas, particularly during the long nights and dimmer days of winter?

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