Is there an unexpected price for late night high tech excitement?

June 17, 2003 Bethesda, MD Recently released research claims that playing lots of video games improves some types of visual functioning. Before rushing to your computer or buying more games, consider another new research finding. Newly published results suggests that performing an exciting video display terminal task fitted with a bright display suppresses the nocturnal changes in melatonin concentration and other elements of our biological clocks. In other words, playing an exciting video game at night with a bright display backlight might just be the physiological cause of a poor night's sleep.


Melatonin secretion is linked to both the sleep-wakefulness and light-dark cycles. Ocular perception that ambient light is dimming has been shown to trigger, via neural pathways involving the hypothalamus, increased secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland. Serum levels increase 10-fold just before sleep and peak around midnight. Twenty-four-hour secretion is higher in winter than in summer. The decline of melatonin secretion with age has been blamed for the tendency to insomnia in the elderly.

As in all advanced industrial nations, the number of Japanese using personal computers at night is increasing. A recent report from that nation indicated that 53.7 percent of Internet users in Japan had delayed bedtimes and 45 percent of them had shortened sleeping hours. These statistics suggest that performing a video display terminal (VDT) task influences the sleep-wake cycle and human biological rhythms. What is not clear is what factors of a VDT task are physiologically related to this phenomenon. Some believe that gazing at a bright display (BD) of a light source while performing a VDT task is one of the factors that affects the human biological clock.

Another factor affecting the human biological clock and sleep-wake cycle is thought to be increased mental activity caused by using a computer. It has been reported that

Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

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