Effects of artificial dawn and morning blue light on daytime cognitive performance, well-being, cortisol and melatonin levels

Chronobiol Int. 2013 Oct;30(8):988-97. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2013.793196. Epub 2013 Jul 10.


Light exposure elicits numerous effects on human physiology and behavior, such as better cognitive performance and mood. Here we investigated the role of morning light exposure as a countermeasure for impaired cognitive performance and mood under sleep restriction (SR). Seventeen participants took part of a 48h laboratory protocol, during which three different light settings (separated by 2 wks) were administered each morning after two 6-h sleep restriction nights: a blue monochromatic LED (light-emitting diode) light condition (BL; 100 lux at 470 nm for 20 min) starting 2 h after scheduled wake-up time, a dawn-simulating light (DsL) starting 30 min before and ending 20 min after scheduled wake-up time (polychromatic light gradually increasing from 0 to 250 lux), and a dim light (DL) condition for 2 h beginning upon scheduled wake time (<8 lux). Cognitive tasks were performed every 2 h during scheduled wakefulness, and questionnaires were administered hourly to assess subjective sleepiness, mood, and well-being. Salivary melatonin and cortisol were collected throughout scheduled wakefulness in regular intervals, and the effects on melatonin were measured after only one light pulse. Following the first SR, analysis of the time course of cognitive performance during scheduled wakefulness indicated a decrease following DL, whereas it remained stable following BL and significantly improved after DsL. Cognitive performance levels during the second day after SR were not significantly affected by the different light conditions. However, after both SR nights, mood and well-being were significantly enhanced after exposure to morning DsL compared with DL and BL. Melatonin onset occurred earlier after morning BL exposure, than after morning DsL and DL, whereas salivary cortisol levels were higher at wake-up time after DsL compared with BL and DL. Our data indicate that exposure to an artificial morning dawn simulation light improves subjective well-being, mood, and cognitive performance, as compared with DL and BL, with minimal impact on circadian phase. Thus, DsL may provide an effective strategy for enhancing cognitive performance, well-being, and mood under mild sleep restriction.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / radiation effects
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Cognition / radiation effects*
  • Dyssomnias / metabolism
  • Dyssomnias / physiopathology
  • Dyssomnias / psychology
  • Dyssomnias / therapy*
  • Europe
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Photoperiod*
  • Phototherapy*
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Seasons
  • Sleep / radiation effects
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wakefulness / radiation effects
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone