My simple hack for increased alertness and improved cognitive functioning: very bright light

This is a sim­ple idea that I came up with by my­self. I was look­ing for a means to en­ter high func­tion­ing lots-of-beta-waves modes with­out the use of chem­i­cal stim­u­lants. What I found was that very bright light works re­ally, re­ally well.

I got the bright­est light bulbs I could get cheaply. 105 watts of in­can­des­cents with halo­gen gas, billed as the equiv­a­lent of 130 watts of in­can­des­cent light. And I got an adap­tor like this that lets me screw four of those into the same socket in the ceiling. The re­sult is about as painful to look at as the sun. It makes my (small) room brighter than a clear sum­mer’s day at my lat­i­tude and slightly brighter than a su­per­mar­ket.

I guess it af­fects adeno­sine much like caf­feine does be­cause that’s what it feels like. Yet un­like caf­feine, it can be rapidly turned on and off, liter­ally with the flip of a switch.

For wak­ing up in the morn­ing, I find bright light more effec­tive than a 200mg caf­feine tablet, al­though my caf­feine tol­er­ance is mod­er­ate for a sci­en­tist.

I have not com­pared the effects of very bright light to modafinil, which re­quires a pre­scrip­tion in my coun­try.

When un­der this amount of light, I need to re­mind my­self to go to bed, be­cause I tire about three hours later than with com­mon lu­minos­ity. Yet once I switch it off, I can usu­ally sleep within a few min­utes, as (I’m guess­ing) a flood of un­blocked adeno­sine sud­denly over­whelms me. I used to have those un­pro­duc­tive late hours where I was too awake to sleep but too tired to be smart. I don’t have those any­more.

You’ve prob­a­bly heard of light ther­apy, which uses light to help man­age sea­sonal af­fec­tive di­s­or­der. I don’t have that is­sue, but I definitely no­tice that the light does im­prove my mood. (Maybe that’s sim­ply be­cause I like to func­tion well.) I’m pretty sure the ex­pen­sive “light ther­apy bulbs” you can get are scams, be­cause the color of the light doesn’t ac­tu­ally make a differ­ence. The amount of light does.

One nice side benefit is that it keeps me awake while med­i­tat­ing, so I don’t need the up­right pos­ture that usu­ally does that job. Without the need for an up­right pos­ture, I can go be­yond two hours straight, which helps en­ter more profoundly al­tered states.

After about 10 months of al­most daily use of this light­ing, I have not no­ticed any de­crease in effec­tive­ness. I do no­tice I find nor­mally-lit rooms com­par­a­tively gloomy, and have an in­creas­ingly hard time un­der­stand­ing why peo­ple tol­er­ate that. Su­per­mar­kets and offices are brightly lit to make the rats move faster—why don’t we do that at our homes and while we’re at it, amp it up even fur­ther? After all, our brains were made for the Afri­can sa­vanna, which dur­ing the day is a lot brighter than most apart­ments to­day.

Since ev­ery­one can try this for a few bucks, I hope some of you will. If you do, please provide feed­back on whether it works as well for you as it does for me. Any ques­tions?