Artificial Light is Harming Our Sleep

A scientist from Harvard University says we need to develop behavioral and technological ways to counteract the damage that artificial light is doing to our sleeping patterns.  And, he says the situation is likely to get worse if something isn’t done.

Writing in the journal Nature, Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, said artificial lights disrupt the body’s natural rhythm, affect chemicals in the brain and drive people to use stimulants like caffeine to stay awake longer.  In the end, all of us are affected, and those with sleep disorders are impacted the most.

Artificial light inhibits sleep-promoting neurons in the brain and the nightly release of the hormone melatonin, which aids sleep, while activating neurons that boost alertness, Czeisler said.  It fools the brain into delaying its “second wind”, which kicked in during the afternoon to see people through to sunset before electric light was invented, until much later in the day.

Czeisler also pointed out that if you’re up and checking email at midnight, you’re actually doing it in the middle of the solar night.

Making the situation worse is the growth of LED light from screens like those in smartphones, tablet computers, and regular computers.  On top of that, the U.S. government is forcing a shift from old style incandescent light bulbs to … you guessed it … LED bulbs.

The problem with LED light is that it emits a blue toned light, which triggers our body to suppress melatonin production.  If more and more of our lights and gadgets bathe our eyeballs in a bluish glow, Czeisler fears, our epidemic of sleep deficiency may worsen.

In his own house, Czeisler uses a software program called f.lux that tunes the LED displays of computers, shifting them to emit light frequencies that are appropriate for the time of day. He also keeps gadgets and televisions out of the bedroom and uses an old-fashioned incandescent light in the bathroom to avoid exposure to bright light at night.

Sources: Boston.com and Irish Examiner

 

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