The transition to LED lighting in many parts of the world may be harming human and animal health, according to a study by academics at the University of Exeter. The researchers used images from the International Space Station to show that the orange emissions from older sodium lights are being replaced by white-coloured emissions produced by LEDs. While LED lighting is more energy-efficient and costs less to run, the increased blue light radiation associated with it is causing “substantial biological impacts” across the continent. The study also claims that previous research into the effects of light pollution has underestimated the impacts of blue light radiation.
So how does the blue light from certain LED’s effect us all ?
The chief health consequence of blue light is its ability to suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep patterns in humans and other organisms. Several scientific studies, as explained in the Harvard Medical school publication “Blue light has a dark side“, have warned that increased exposure to artificial blue light can worsen people’s sleeping habits, which can lead to chronic health conditions over time, such as heart disease and diabetes.
The increase in blue light radiation in Europe has also reduced the visibility of stars in the night sky, which the study says “may have impacts on people’s sense of nature.” Blue light can also alter the behavioural patterns of animals, such as bats and moths, as it can change their movements towards or away from light sources.
The UK, Italy, Romania, Ireland and Spain were identified as the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of blue light radiation due to their recent transitions to LED night lights. But other countries such as in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA have a very similar story to tell. The impacts have been felt much less in countries such as Austria and Germany, which still power much of their night lighting using older gas and fluorescent bulbs. The study highlights the need for better quality and lower levels of lighting that are harmonious with the natural world.
What do the experts agree on ?
Darren Evans, professor of ecology and conservation at Newcastle University, praised the study as “an extraordinary piece of work” and said it aligned with his own findings on how local street lighting has dramatically reduced the abundance of nocturnal insect populations. David Smith, of the conservation charity Buglife, urged the UK government to introduce national targets to reduce levels of light pollution, saying measurement in the country was patchy and uncoordinated. Some councils in England are already trying to reduce the impact of LED lighting by dimming the lights during night hours and changing the bandwidths of their LED bulbs to produce less harmful blue light.
So how bad is it ?
The transition to LED lighting in Europe and other continents including Australia may have negative consequences for human and animal health. The increased blue light radiation associated with LED lighting is causing “substantial biological impacts” across the continent, including the suppression of melatonin production, worsened sleeping habits and chronic health conditions, as well as reduced visibility of stars in the night sky and altered behavioural patterns of animals. The study highlights the need for better quality and lower levels of lighting that are harmonious with the natural world, and for national targets to reduce levels of light pollution. Red Light therapy can be the solution.
This takes us to lighting in our home and bedrooms.
Sleeping with the light on is a common practice among people of all ages, especially our children as it provides a sense of security and apparently keeps the monsters away. However, recent research suggests that it could be linked to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is because light is an important signal by which the body’s internal clock is synchronized to the external cycle of day and night, governing a host of biological processes from temperature to hormone release.
Numerous studies have revealed that keeping the lights on at night could be problematic. For instance, research has suggested it is associated with obesity in women and type 2 diabetes among elderly people. A recent study from researchers in the Netherlands also suggested bright daytime lighting and low light at night could help people with pre-diabetes control their blood sugar levels.
How does Blue light at night effect my Glucose and Cardiovascular rates ?
Now, researchers in the US have found that people who are exposed to artificial blue light at night show worse glucose and cardiovascular regulation compared to those who sleep in the dark. This is because the body is kept more alert when exposed to light, which increases activation of the autonomic nervous system, resulting in increased heart rate and decreased insulin sensitivity.
The study involved the glucose tolerance and heart rate of 20 people over two nights, 10 of whom spent both nights sleeping in dim light, while the other 10 spent one night in a room with dim light and the next night in a room with overhead lighting at around 100 lux, which is about equivalent to an overcast day. The results suggest that the group that spent a night with the lights on had higher insulin resistance in the morning, higher heart rate, and lower heart-rate variability, despite having similar levels of melatonin – a sleep-promoting hormone produced by the body – as the group that slept in the dark.
While the study only involved one night and a healthy group of people, the researchers suggest that the change in insulin could be considered a physiologically significant change that may translate into a risk for disease. However, it is necessary to conduct larger scale trials over multiple nights and different cohorts and conditions to confirm these findings.
In the meantime, experts recommend having a sleeping environment that is as dark as possible, particularly for those who do shift work. Light is the strongest signal to our circadian pacemaker that controls rhythms in physiology and behaviour, including metabolism. Hence, it is crucial to avoid light exposure during sleep, especially at night, to maintain healthy metabolic functions.
Red Led Light before bed – the reset required for an even deeper sleep
Can you remember sitting around a campfire and whilst enjoying the company of your family or friends you stared into the fire and felt absolute calmness and relaxation only to be drawn back to it continually ? Then retiring to your tent and falling asleep very quickly and having such a good solid rest that you awaken early and feel totally recharged and ready to start your day. Why is that ?
Well quite simply, the red light of the campfire helps to increase melatonin production. Melatonin is the chemical your body produces to help regulate sleep. A deeper and longer period of rest can reduce inflammation and even improve your sleep cycles.
The red wavelengths in the evening calms you and puts you in a meditative state, which benefits the brain’s health and development and helps reverse the blue light effect from the daylight hours ; phones and screens that are sadly overused in today environment.
Because you don’t want to be the one that burns down your apartment or house from an internal campfire being lit on your bedroom, the wisest thing you can do is to add a quality red light therapy device into your bedroom and set it for 15-20 minutes on the Deep Red setting at around the 660nm level. Turn all other lights off and go about your nightly wind down procedure. You do not need to sit or be in front of your device to enjoy the benefits. Same, you don’t sit on the campfire to reap the rewards either !
A suitable light for this is the Pro 40 or Biocell 60 by Leredd as they both allow for just the red setting to be activated without any near-infra red (NIR) . They also have timers inbuilt so you don’t have to turn them off which is the last thing you want to do when drifting off to sleep. The Biocell 60 also has the added ability to reduce the glow downwards from 100 to 1% providing added variation and has dual chip output from each lens. With devices that are emitting just the red wavelength there is no need to wear any googles or eye protection either as the red light is beneficial for eye health. Just another bonus from using this light source.
While sleeping with your regular house or night lights on might provide a sense of security, it could come at a cost of increased risks of heart disease; weight gain and diabetes through improper sleep. Therefore, it is advisable to maintain a good sleeping routine and environment that is as dark as possible once your head hits the pillow, to ensure that the body’s internal clock is synchronised to the external cycle of day and night, promoting healthy metabolic and biological functions.