Reset The Rhythm

In an ideal world, our natural pattern of sleeping and waking – our circadian rhythms – would coincide neatly with the times we’re meant to be awake and the times we’re meant to be in bed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, especially for people with dementia. But imagine if it could. Imagine if you could just reset your circadian rhythms so they go back to working how they’re supposed to work (

Back in humanity’s hunter-gatherer days, it was all much simpler. Circadian rhythms developed so we’d be awake when there was sunlight and we could sleep in the dark, which was very efficient. Today, with screens and artificial lighting everywhere at all hours and work schedules being very different, it’s a lot harder to find our natural sleep and wake times.

Now, some people are always going to be early birds, while others are natural night owls. Our sleep habits also change over the course of our life. Toddlers get up early, while teenagers sleep in late. We all change again as we grow older, but for people with dementia, it’s worse. Their natural circadian rhythms can become completely disrupted. This doesn’t just impact sleep; it also affects metabolism, hormones, and mood.

Dementia involves the building up of plaques in the brain that block its normal functioning, including its regular sleep patterns. How can you alleviate some of the impact of these plaques (as there’s no outright cure)? Well, one of the best ways is to have regular and good-quality sleep, something that the plaques can make almost impossible. It’s a catch-22.

Researchers at Ulster University, teaming up with Chroma Lighting, are exploring how indoor lighting could potentially be used to “reset” circadian rhythms and restore healthier sleep patterns, with a knock-on positive impact on the rest of their health. They’re working in care homes, looking not just at when lights are switched on and off but also their brightness and residents’ levels of exposure.

We don’t actually know that much about how the changing amount and intensity of light can impact us through the day because we just haven’t gathered enough data. This research hopes to change that. Dynamic lighting with sensors and algorithms to allow it to adjust to each person’s unique biological clock could reduce not just disruption to circadian rhythms but also cognitive decline in general.

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