New research on sleep published recently, has shown that looking at smartphones in the middle of the night doesn’t affect the body’s overall circadian rhythms. We had been previously told that the last thing thing we should be doing in the wee small hours is looking at our devices. Now new research challenges this belief .

Researchers directly tested how short pulses of light are processed by the brain to affect sleep. What came out of the research , is that two seperate areas of the brain are responsible for short pulses, versus long-term exposure to light. Prior to this discovery, it was thought that all information is relayed through the brain’s nucleus (SNC) which controls and synchronzes the body”s sleep/awake cycles.

The research , led by Northwestern University’s Tiffany Schmidt in the U.S. was in collaboration with the labortories of Fred Turek, The Charles and Emma Morrison, Professor of Neurobiology in Weinberg and Samer Hatar, section leader at the National Institute of Mantal Health in the U.S. Details were published in the journal eLife

A genetically modified mouse model was used in the study. Before this study it was believed that all light informatiom went through the SCN. This is a densly packed area of the hypothalamus known as the body’s circadian pacemaker.

Mice are nocturnal animals and fall asleep when exposed to light. When these mice were exposed to short bursts of light they stayed awake and their body temperature, which normally correlates to sleep, was not affected by the short-term light. This suggested that the overall circadian rhythms remained intact. Which encouraged the researchers to consider that a night of smartphone gazing doesn’t have long term consequences on the body.

Schmidt said that ” if these two effects – acute and long-term light exposure – were driven through the same pathway, then every minor light exposure would run the risk of completely shifting our body’s circadian rhythms. Because it is now know that the light response follows multiple pathways more work, Schmidt acknowledges, is needed to map these pathways. This in turn will give researchers more information on how to change light exposure to increase expose for those who need it most such a night shift workers in different occupations.

” We want people to feel alert while they are exposed to light without getting the health risks that are associated with shifted circadian rhythms, such as diabetes, depression and even cancer”, Schmidt said.