Finland gets dark during the winter. Very dark. That's why they experience high rates of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some interesting devices have been created to help; one of which is the Valkee, a portable iPod-like device launched in 2010 that delivers 8-12 minute doses of light directly to the brain via your ear canal.
The University of Oulu, Finland, conducted clinical trials of the device earlier this year that proved the non-visual light stimulates brain tissue, and it increases serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. More recent research is also uncovering some unexpected side effects of the device — improved motor reaction time.
Verve Research in Finland conducted a placebo test on the Finnish National Hockey team; half of the team received working Valkee's, the other half didn't. Those who received a 12-minute dose of light each morning for three weeks via the headset sped up their reaction times by 20 percent.
Becoming faster? What hockey team wouldn't want that? In fact, there probably more than a few other sports teams out there that would be interested assuming the Olympic committee doesn't find out.
Mikko Tulppo, the docent who led the study at the Department of Exercise and Medical Physiology at Verve stated via a recent news release: "The placebo-controlled study showed a significant improvement in motoric reaction times of the top athletes using bright light via the ear canal."
Some questions about the practical application of the device for this purpose have yet to be studied. Does the light directly affect our motor responses or is it merely a link to the elevated mood stimulated by the device? How often would subjects need to receive the pulses to achieve the effect?
The benefits of light exposure improving motor skills could go a long way in areas other than sports. Shift workers, long haul drivers and pilots would all value increased motor skills.
Testimonials on the Valkee website also report users experience a decrease in food cravings which is another side effect we hope they explore.