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Study: Blue light boosts performance better than coffee

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This airman at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio might be onto something. New research suggests that the same kind of light emitted from smartphones may boost athletic performance. (Jon R. Anderson/Staff)

Here comes one more reason to keep your smartphone out of the bedroom — or at least to keep it turned off until you’re ready to start your day. It also turns out that those guys at the gym with their faces buried in their phones might actually be onto something.

A recent study out of Sweden suggests that blue light — the same kind emitted from smartphones and tablets – can give you as good a boost as a couple cups of coffee, or even better. On the fitness front, this new research suggests blue light might actually help boost sports performance.

All of this is on top of previous research that says the light from smartphones suppresses melatonin production, making it harder for you to fall asleep.

Scientists from Mid Sweden University tested 21 healthy adults, comparing their reactions to short-wavelength blue light, regular white light, and 240 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of about two and half cups of coffee.

Those exposed to blue light for an hour performed as well as those taking caffeine in tests requiring quick-thinking decision-making skills. The blue light group did even better in tests when a variety of distractions were introduced, suggesting that blue light provides a significant boost in mental focus as well.

“The potential for light therapy to impact athletic performance has been overlooked,” concludes lead researcher C. Martyn Beaven, in his write-up in the open-source journal PLOS ONE. “We show improvements in reaction time as a result of blue light exposure and such improvements may have athletic implications, especially given recent research demonstrating a link between reaction time and sprint performance.

“Further, since reaction time is an important component of agility, blue light has the potential to enhance athletic performance as numerous sports are performed indoors with artificial lighting conditions and/or at night time.”

Special bonus for those with blue eyes: They saw even better results in the testing.

Light exposure was pegged to an hour because that’s about the same time it takes caffeine to fully kick in.

“It is known however, that just 50 seconds of short-wave light exposure can cause detectable effects in the hypocampus and amygdala, brain areas associated with arousal,” Beaven writes.

Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is a writer for OFFduty. Reach him at jona@militarytimes.com.