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Researchers try to individualize light therapy

As upstate New York heads into some of the darkest days of the calendar year, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy are trying to shed some light on our individual cycle of sleeping and waking known as the circadian rhythm.

Existing therapy for people who are impacted by natural changes in light, known as seasonal affective disorder, involves regularly sitting in front a light panel.

But researchers at the school's Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center are trying to create a more nuanced and personalized system of therapy that could also help people who work odd hours in changing light conditions, like members of the military or air traffic controllers.

They're working to create a wearable device that would measure a person's unique circadian rhythm, says professor John Wen. "The idea is then to control the light, artificial lighting, so that you'll be in peak performance when the time is right," Wen says.

Lighting studies are currently being done on fruit flies, but researchers plan on working with human subjects within the year.