Having trouble falling asleep at night? Waking up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep again? Pay attention to this issue: light pollution.
I’ve heard about this many years ago, and I knew it had an impact on nature as well, but I’ve just come across an article on the subject with new data. I find this kind of stuff very interesting!
Apparently the ecosystem is affected not only by chemical pollution but also by light pollution. According to the article: “Light pollution disorients and confuses animals who navigate via these natural light sources.” “… migrating birds navigate through the sky by using the stars and moon. When flying over large cities, they are attracted by the bright lights below. Disoriented, they often collide with brightly lit buildings, or become trapped within the city and die from exhaustion. In Toronto these bird deaths prompted the city to initiate the Lights Out Toronto! campaign in 2006 that implored Torontonians to turn off unnecessary lights at night. On a physiological level, studies have shown that light pollution hampers reproductive cycles and even lowers the immune system in animals.”
This light pollution is also damaging to us, humans. “The reason light at night can hurt us is rooted in our biological clock, known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is an approximately 24-hour cycle that governs the biological processes of life on earth, including humans. It syncs with our outside environment to control the release of different hormones, including melatonin, which causes drowsiness and also suppresses cancer tumours.”
The circadian rhythm for a typical morning riser passes through the following general stages:
• 6:45 – 7:30 a.m. Around dawn, blood pressure rises sharply, hormones are released, and melatonin secretion is suppressed, causing wakefulness.
• 10:00 a.m. The body’s metabolism speeds up, with alertness increasing through mid-morning.
• 12:00 p.m. Appetite increases.
• 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Physical and mental states (muscular strength, cardiovascular efficiency, reaction times) peak through mid-to-late afternoon.
• 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. Towards sunset, blood pressure and body temperature reach their highest points during the daily cycle.
• 9:00 p.m. After darkness, metabolism slows and melatonin secretion begins, preparing the body for sleep.
• 10:00 p.m. Sleep begins.
• 2:00 a.m. Deepest sleep.
• 4:30 a.m. Lowest body temperature.
“When blue spectrum light enters our eyes, photosensitive ganglion cells in our retinas inhibit the pineal gland, the organ responsible for melatonin production. […] Melatonin secretion, however, is disrupted by even low levels of light.”
Other than helping suppress cancer cells, the disruption of the circadian rhythm in animals has also been linked to depression, weight gain, impulsivity, and slower thinking. In 2007, the American Cancer Society added “shift work that involves circadian disruption” as a probable cause for cancer.
This problem is only growing bigger with time since smartphones, tablets and laptop have invaded the bedroom. This blue light is especially disturbing to our sleep pattern and melatonin development. Just one look at it during the night or simply waking up briefly in a room that is not dark enough and this could trigger melatonin suppression.
Okay, so light pollution is bad for humans and the animals, what else?
“Disturbing evidence has emerged showing that light pollution exacerbate air pollution. Each night, compounds called nitrate radicals break down polluting chemicals in the air that form smog and ozone. However, a recent study found that nighttime lights significantly slowed down this nightly cleansing.”
So, if you’re like me and want to not only get a better night sleep but also help the animals and the environment, I think it is to our advantage to make some changes:
- Turn off all unnecessary lights, inside and outside. It’ll be good for you, the animals, the environment and your wallet! “The energy waste alone, for example, interweaves with global issues such as climate change. In the United States approximately US$2 billion annually is lost on wasted lighting. In Canada the combined light pollution energy cost for the major cities of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver is estimated to be well over $122 million.”
- Keep electronics outside the bedrooms. Resist the urge to look at your phone or tablet if you wake up during the night! Make sure your alarm clock isn’t too bright, or cover it.
- Although it is a daily challenge, I personally am trying to turn off (most of) the lights 1 hour before bedtime by slowly turning off lights around the house to stimulate my own melatonin production and be ready to snooze off by the time I go to bed. It really seems to be helping!
- Make sure your bedroom is dark. Get black-out curtains if needed, or get a night mask! I sometimes just use a t-shirt to put over my eyes in the early morning, especially in the summer, and it allows me to keep sleeping until it’s time to get up.
Good night! 🙂
If you’re interested, there is a 45 min video from The Nature of Things with David Suzuki online, for free (Canada only), called Lights Out!
(source: Alive magazine issue 364 and The Nature of Things with David Suzuki)