I recently read an article online about the Tonto National Monument in Arizona. This is a desert park northeast of Phoenix that’s been newly designated an International Dark Sky Park by the National Park Service and International Dark-Sky Association. The designation is bestowed on areas nationally and worldwide that take steps to make it easier for people to enjoy the night sky without the distractions of light pollution.
It’s concerning to learn the vast negative effects that artificial lighting is having in our world today. Perusing the article led me to visit the IDA-International Dark Sky Association’s website for more information--this site educates about the extensive reasons and urgent need for conservation of earth’s dark skies. As I read on, I realized that this is an important human health story!
It’s also another example of the concept I base managing personal health and wellness with: If you learn principles you can devise your own methods. The principle of causation is the relation of a cause and its effect. Research suggests that artificial light at night can negatively affect human health, increasing risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and more. Through this research, we can see the effect on human health that too much artificial light is causing. Awareness of cause and its effects helps us to balance the necessary day-night cycle, devising our own methods to conserve adequate amounts of darkness and reduce the exposure of ourselves to so much of this harmful light.
“Many species (including humans) need darkness to survive and thrive.”
-American Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health (2012)
What is Light Pollution?
Most of us are familiar with air, water, and land pollution, but now we know that light can also be a pollutant. For three billion years, life on Earth existed in a rhythm of light and dark that was created solely by the illumination of the Sun, Moon and stars. Now, artificial lights overpower the darkness and our cities glow at night, disrupting the natural day-night pattern and shifting the delicate balance of our environment:
Nothing has captured the march of wealth and progress like any society’s ability to light up the night—first with campfires and torches, then with gas lamps, finally with incandescent lights. Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 Rural Electrification Act was an effort both to bring modernity to the 90% of American farms that lacked electricity and to help jolt the American economy, which was still deep in the Depression. The modern nighttime image of the Korean peninsula as seen from space, with darkness north of the 38th parallel and brilliant light in the vibrant south, powerfully captures the connection between civilization and illumination. ~Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine
“Light Pollution Is Getting Worse Every Year. That's Bad For Your Health”
The above excerpt from a 2017 article published in Time Magazine, summarizes the history of artificial light developed by humans over billions of years. Although this has brought great advancements in our human lifestyles, it has also had side effects—saturation of lights at night are escorting repercussions we humans had no foresight to predict but are now realizing. Scientific evidence suggests that artificial light at night has negative and deadly effects on many creatures including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants.
Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night governs life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators. It’s encoded in the DNA of all humans, plants, and animals. Humans have radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night and light pollution is getting worse every year across the globe. (Source: IDA-International Dark Sky Association)
Components of light pollution include:
• Glare – excessive brightness that causes visual discomfort
• Skyglow – brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas
• Light trespass – light falling where it is not intended or needed
• Clutter – bright, confusing and excessive groupings of light sources
Effects of Light Pollution. A growing body of evidence links the brightening night sky directly to measurable negative impacts including:
• Increasing energy consumption
• Disrupting the ecosystem and wildlife
• Harming human health
• Effecting crime and safety
“When we add light to the environment, that has the potential to disrupt habitat, just like running a bulldozer over the landscape can.” -Chad Moore, formerly of the National Park Service
SLEEPING WELL? HOW ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS CAN DISRUPT A GOOD NIGHT’S REST
Sleep is critical for your body’s ability to rejuvenate, as well as regenerate new healthy cells. Too little sleep — defined as less than seven hours a night in a 2006 Institute of Medicine report, affects the body in a number of negative ways. Research studies have linked poor sleep habits to anxiety, moodiness, depression, increased inflammation, higher risk of cardiovascular incidence, disrupted appetite regulation, and higher risk of obesity.
Circadian Rhythm. Humans adhere to a circadian rhythm — our biological clock — a sleep-wake pattern governed by the day-night cycle. Artificial light at night can disrupt that cycle.
Melatonin. Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin in response to circadian rhythm. Melatonin has antioxidant properties, induces sleep, boosts the immune system, lowers cholesterol, and helps the functioning of the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, testes and adrenal glands. Nighttime exposure to artificial light suppresses melatonin production.
The American Medical Association warns that nighttime lighting, especially the blue-white LED variety, “is associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity.” Unfortunately, most LEDs used for outdoor lighting, as well as computer screens, TVs, and other electronic displays, create abundant blue light. A revealing Harvard Study showed that artificial lighting may be linked to increased breast cancer rates, probably as a result of decreased levels of the hormone melatonin, which influences circadian rhythms. The connection, thus far, has been found only in premenopausal women who are current or former smokers.
Cut Light Exposure in Your Bedroom TIP:
Look around your bedroom at any electronics, or devices such as alarm clocks, television or computer screens, charging outlets for cellular phones, etc. Anything that has a light on it that will illuminate the room in the dark either remove to another location, cover the light with electrical tape, or at least point the light away from the direction of your bed if possible.
Reminder. Sleep is Nature’s nurse! A restorative time for our bodies. Sleep is involved in healing and repair of the heart, blood vessels, and just about every part of the body. It plays an important role in our overall physical well-being; with a lack of adequate sleep, we develop inflammation that leads to degrading health. Therefore, artificial light disruptors in the bedroom can harm circadian rhythms and production in the body of the hormone melatonin. It is also helpful to avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
Losing The Dark Film: A short planetarium show and video on light pollution (highlights problems and offers some solutions too)
Artificial Light at Night and Human Health PDF:
Light, both natural and artificial, is a powerful cue for the circadian clock, the internal timing device that tells us when to wake up and go to sleep, when to eat, and when we are most mentally alert.
Camping Syncs Internal Clock with Nature video:
Better Sleep, Better Health. The Healing Power of Sleep:
By Judith Garner, Certified Health Coach
Helping people stay healthy inside & out!