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Light Exposure in the Evening Improves Sports Performance

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A new study shows that athletes who are exposed to blue light before competing can significantly improve their end performance.

Researchers at the University of Basel’s Department of Sport, Exercise and Health investigated whether light exposure before a cycling time trial could compensate for the time of day the event was. According to their research, many sporting events take place late in the evening and many athletes fail to perform at their best due to their sleep-wake cycle. Seventy-four young male athletes participated in the study.

Athlete exposed to blue light.
Athletes in blue light: Performance during the final spurt is clearly increased by light exposure. Courtesy of the University of Basel, Department of Sport, Exercise and Health.

Blue light reduces the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The researchers tested the hypothesis that this suppression of melatonin could improve an athlete's endurance during a 12-minute cycling time trial. They randomly divided the participants into three groups and exposed them to either bright light, blue monochromatic light or control light for an hour. This light exposure was immediately followed by the performance test on the bicycle ergometer.

They found that exposure to blue light significantly improved the athletes' ability to increase their performance during the final spurt of the time trial. This increase was defined as the ratio of the performance measured in the first minute to that of the last minute of the test. The subjects' improved performance in the final spurt also correlated with the amount of blue light. This light was able to effectively suppress the melatonin and influence the athletes' sleep-wake cycle.

Compared to the control light, bright light led to a small increase in overall performance, but the difference was not significant.

The blue light had no impact on the athletes' maximum performance, but did impact the way they finished. The University of Basel researchers plan to expand their investigation into light exposure and sports performance.

The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology (

Jul/Aug 2017
Research & TechnologyeducationUniversity of BaselDepartment of SportExercise and Healthlight sourcesEuropeLEDsBioScanBiophotonics

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