Aging reduces the stimulating effect of blue light on cognitive brain functions

Sleep. 2014 Jan 1;37(1):85-96. doi: 10.5665/sleep.3314.


Study objectives: Light exposure, particularly blue light, is being recognized as a potent mean to stimulate alertness and cognition in young individuals. Aging is associated with changes in alertness regulation and cognition. Whether the effect of light on cognitive brain function changes with aging is unknown, however.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: Functional Neuroimaging Unit, University of Montreal Geriatric Institute.

Participants: Sixteen younger (23 ± 4.1 y) and 14 older (61 ± 4.5 y) healthy participants were recruited in the current study.

Intervention: Blue light administration.

Measurements: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to record brain responses to an auditory working memory task in young and older healthy individuals, alternatively maintained in darkness or exposed to blue light.

Results: Results show that the older brain remains capable of showing sustained responses to light in several brain areas. However, compared to young individuals, the effect of blue light is decreased in the pulvinar, amygdala, and tegmentum as well as in the insular, prefrontal, and occipital cortices in elderly individuals.

Conclusion: The effect of blue light on brain responses diminishes with aging in areas typically involved in visual functions and in key regions for alertness regulation and higher executive processes. Our findings provide the first indications that the effect of light on cognition may be reduced in healthy aging.

Keywords: Aging; blue light; circadian; cognition; fMRI; light; melanopsin; nonvisual.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Arousal / radiation effects
  • Attention / physiology
  • Attention / radiation effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / radiation effects*
  • Cataract
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition / radiation effects*
  • Color*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Darkness
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Memory, Short-Term / radiation effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pupil / physiology
  • Pupil / radiation effects
  • Quebec
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin