Night Light Study: Too Much Light Can Lead To Depression

David Cornell - Author

Sep. 4 2014, Updated 12:03 p.m. ET

Your night light could be making you depressed, scientists are claiming. Any source of light during the night when the human body is trying to sleep can disturb your biorhythms and lead to mental health problems.

Most of us use the handy little outlet lamps to light the way if we need to take a late night tinkle, or as a source of comfort because we will be able to more easily see potential intruders. For children, we probably use them to help ward off “the boogieman” or other imaginary monsters of the night.

Sleep researcher Kenji Obayashi from the Nara Medical University School of Medicine in Japan claims that any artificial light at night, or LAN, may be creating more problems than it’s fixing:

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“In our research so far, light exposure at night would be associated with depressive symptoms, sleep quality, metabolic abnormalities, and blood pressure, and a health problem like depression and insomnia are known to increase suicide.”

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In simpler terms, light is a natural indicator for the human body that we should be awake. The use of a night light, or even anything shining through your windows other than moonlight, could be the equivalent of a mixed message to the brain.

This is not conclusive though, because it is also known that sleeping near a fire helps deter natural predators and provide warmth in colder climates when camping. The flickering nature of fire can be even worse than the steady glow of an artificial source.

Obayashi adds:

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“Delayed circadian phase may cause depression and insomnia; however, this has not been yet established. In addition, LAN may alter human melatonin secretion pattern, which is the hormone associated with mental condition and sleep quality.”

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A similar study over the relationship between night lights and mental health was done with hamsters in 2012 at Ohio State University Medical Center. They initially noticed the link by observing the trends as they rose in the past, finding that the increased use of artificial light seemed to rise with cases of mental health, insomnia, and attempted suicide.

The glow from artificial light may be linked to the brain’s “need” to stay awake, tricking us subconsciously into believing it’s still daytime.

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One possible way to cut down on what scientists are calling “light pollution” is to keep a flashlight near the bed. This way you’re not being exposed to voluntary light when you’re sleeping, and if you need to wander, just use a flashlight.

The possible danger of using a night light is not conclusive though and may simply be a coincidence.

[image via ECVV]


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