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Nina In New York: Study Links Dim Lighting To Depression…In Hamsters

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A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
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By Nina Pajak

We all do it. Maybe you’re catching up on last weekend’s episode of Breaking Bad (which you really should have done by now). Maybe you’ve fallen down an Internet rabbit hole of articles about infectious diseases passed on by Northeastern mosquitoes. Perhaps you’ve begun a Scramble with Friends tournament to which there appears to be no earthly end. Or maybe you’re just reading a book on your nice, new, back-lit electronic reader. You get caught up, stay awake longer than you meant to. Your eyes glaze over and you enter a state of wakeful media coma. Perhaps you even fall asleep to the glow of your preferred screen-buddy. 

That’s probably why you’re a sad sack.

This week, Time magazine reported on a study released from the Ohio State University Medical Center, which finds that too many hours of dim lighting—the kind which is emitted from all of our electronic friends—may lead to depression, or at least symptomatic behavior. Er, in hamsters.

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Yeah. But hamsters are people too! And they really need to lay off the iPads before bed. For the study, researchers exposed them to dim light at night and found the following to be true, according to Time:

…hamsters with chronic exposure to dim light at night showed signs of depression within just a few weeks: reduced physical activity compared with hamsters living in normal light-dark conditions, as well as less interest in sugar water (a treat for the hamsters), greater signs of distress when placed in water, and changes in the brain’s hippocampus that are similar to brain changes seen in depressed people.

Which clears up the nagging question of how one can tell if a hamster is depressed. I mean, I suppose they’re normally rather jaunty little creatures, having brains roughly the size of a grape or a pea (depending on the size of the hamster). Though they’re far too wiggly and squiggly for my taste. I mean, children of the world, what exactly makes a hamster cuter than a mouse? I fail to see the distinction, but I’d love to know.

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I will tell you that from the human perspective of a person exposed to far too much dim lighting at night, it has in no way caused me to lay off the proverbial sugar water. Then again, chronic exposure appears to mess with our circadian rhythms, which in turn can lead to conditions like obesity. So, I suppose there’s some consistency there.

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But fear not! If you have been feeling down in the dumps and you also find yourself spending your wee hours playing Myst (wait, do people still play Myst?), there is hope for you. EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A HAMSTER. Just lay off the screen time in the evenings, and find a non-glowing means of winding down before bed. Spend some time basking in the darkness, or in the warm light of an actual lamp, read a book on a piece of paper, have a conversation with a family member, and then just go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. When you can check your Facebook notifications.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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We’ve All Lost TV Privileges. Now Go Outside And Play.

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Take Me Out To The Ball Game