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Blue-Spectrum Light May Boost Classroom Cognition, Study Says

While late-night screen surfing can drastically throw off students' sleep cycles and learning, boosting blue-light in the classroom may spark students' cognition, according to a new study in Germany.

Last year, I told you about a flurry of new studies on how late-night screen time—via nearly ubiquitous laptops, some televisions, tablets, smart phones, and even high-efficiency lightbulbs—affects students' sleep schedules. In a word: Powerfully. Exposure to lights rich in "blue light," the same spectrum existing in natural sunlight, after dark can throw off students' circadian cycles, giving them the equivilent of jet-lag.¬†

The German study, published in the journal Trends in Nueroscience and Education, finds that, as might be expected, stronger synthetic sunlight during the daytime can stregthen kids' circadian cycles and may provide a bit of a boost for concentration. 

Researchers at the Transfer Center for Neuroscience and Learning, University of Ulm, Germany adjusted lighting in two classrooms each in two high schools. One classroom had standard white LED lights, which typically cast a yellow-white color, while a neighboring class had mixed white and blue LED lighting. Fifty-eight high school students attended morning classes under both conditions while taking standardized tests of concentration and memory. Students in the blue-light classrooms made about a third fewer errors of basic memory and processing in the concentration test.

There are two huge caveats here. First, though a sample of 58 isn't uncommon in neuroscience studies, it's still tiny. Perhaps more importantly, the researchers partnered with Osram, a German lighting manufacturer, which developed new blended LED lights for the study—so these findings are probably best characterized as a potentially positive prototype test. Still, add it to the pile of growing evidence that artificial lights can affect students' alertness—for good or ill, depending on whether they are supplementing or countering a student's natural circadian cycle.

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