Fancy lights for fancy sleep and body clock therapies in the elderly population

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The daily light and dark cycle is the strongest external time cue for humans to maintain circadian rhythmicity (keeping the body clock in time). Some individuals need brighter light for longer periods to achieve daily synchronization of their circadian rhythms and for maintaining daytime alertness. This is particularly the case for elderly people and patients suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. Interestingly, different light wavelengths (colour composition of the light) exert distinctive effects with bluish light increasing alertness and amber-red light promoting sleep.

Program Type: Masters/PhD

Research Group: Sleep and Circadian Research Group

Supervisors: Dr Maria Comas, Dr Chris Gordon, A/Prof Craig Phillips, Dr Angela D’Rozario, Professor Ron Grunstein, Professor Sharon Naismith.

Synopsis: Chronic dysregulation of circadian rhythms is usually accompanied by sleep disturbances which have major impacts on quality of life causing daytime fatigue, poor concentration, impaired cognition, social isolation and worsening of health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, depression, neurodegenerative diseases, obesity and premature death. Sleep disruption is mainly treated using pharmacological therapies but with limited effectiveness and negative side-effects.

Research Plan: We will investigate whether Light Therapy (LT) of variable wavelengths improves sleep quality, daytime alertness, body clocks and cognitive function in people over 50 years, with and without mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who report disturbed sleep.

The project will involve developing all, or part, of the skills needed to carry out an interventional randomised crossover trial. This includes recruitment, screening, performing the study, wet-lab work analysing the collected samples, analysis of data and writing publications.

Funding: This project has funding available.

Contact: Maria Comas maria.comassoberats@sydney.edu.au.