Could Lumie light boxes become standard issue for night workers? That all depends on the results of an on-going European research project.
Light therapy is well known as a means of alleviating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), aiding sleep and improving feelings of wellbeing, but could it also reduce the heightened risk of type 2 diabetes amongst night shift workers?
This is the question Cambridge-based light therapy specialist Lumie is hoping to answer through its participation in the EuRhythDia research project into type 2 diabetes.
EuRhythDia is a consortium of 15 European universities and research-led SMEs, including Lumie. The main task of the project, which involves 325 night shift workers, is to find out how different interventions in at-risk groups impact the body’s circadian rhythms, or body clock, to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
According to the NHS, in 2010 there were approximately 3.1 million people aged 16 or over in the UK with diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed). By 2030, this figure is expected to rise to 4.6 million, with 90% of those affected having type 2 diabetes. Night shift workers have a five-fold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than individuals who have never worked night shifts.
The study interventions are designed to improve participants’ adjustment to disrupted sleep-wake patterns by positively influencing their body clocks.
One of the groups, made up of 65 night shift workers, is undergoing light therapy treatment in four different study centres in Germany, Italy and Austria.
For this study, Lumie has supplied Lumie Brazil, its most powerful lightbox for optimum bright light therapy. Lumie Brazil delivers 10,000lux at about 35cm and is a certified medical device.
Workers undergoing three or more consecutive night shifts receive light therapy daily; light is applied during the first half of the night shift and switched off during the second half. In addition, they receive light therapy at home on off-night shift days, for up to one hour during the first three hours after waking up. Otherwise, the workers maintain the same living habits (diet, exercise) and sleep-wake patterns on non-night shift days that they did before the study.
Project coordinator, Prof Rainer Böger from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, said:
“The study participants feel very satisfied with this intervention. Those who have already finished the study reported that their subjective well-being was much improved by the light therapy. They were not only able to cope better with the work at night, but they also observed that it took them less time to re-adjust to a normal day-night cycle after the night shifts. This helped them to maintain their social life more easily.”
EuRhythDia researchers now aim to study if, beyond the subjective wellbeing of the study participants, this treatment also helps to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus.
“We are eager to see if light therapy offers an easy and effective means of helping to maintain the health of our working pubulation. The light therapy devices can conveniently be placed on any work desk, our study participants report. Many of them asked if they could keep the light therapy device even after the end of the study.” explained Professor Böger.Lumie CEO Jonathan Cridland added:
“Lumie prides itself on being at the forefront of research into light therapy and is delighted to be able to participate in this potentially significant project.
The therapeutic impact of light on our body clock and its particular benefit to shift workers is already clear and it’s an effective and relatively inexpensive treatment. It is exciting to think light therapy might now also be shown to reduce the risk of a shift worker developing type 2 diabetes.”