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Artificial Light May Increase Aging & Fragility

silhouette of womanAs you age, body maintenance can feel like it’s taking over your life. In the quest to stay strong and healthy as we get older, we try to eat right, exercise enough, maintain oral health, think positively, and get enough sleep.

And just when you think you have it all figured out, a new study reminds you to turn out the lights. And if you think it’s just about sleep quality, think again.

Published in Current Biology, the study notes how artificial lighting disrupts our circadian rhythms. That disruption appears to activate pro-inflammatory conditions in the immune system.

Researchers found this by exposing mice to round-the-clock light for 24 weeks while measuring several health markers. As noted in the press release on the work,

Studies of the animals’ brain activity showed that the constant light exposure reduced the normal rhythmic patterns in the brain’s central circadian pacemaker of the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) by 70 percent.

brain anatomyThe SCN is a small group of brain cells in the hypothalamus that controls the circadian cycles. These cells influence many physiological and behavioral rhythms each day, including the sleep/wake cycle. They also regulate production of melatonin – a hormone that influences circadian rhythms.

Previous studies have also shown a relationship between exposure to artificial light, especially blue light, and disease. For one, it suppresses melatonin secretion. Researchers believe lower melatonin levels may be a factor in the development of disease.

This should especially concern the approximately one-quarter of Americans who work night shifts. Compared to their day shift counterparts, night shift workers have a higher risk of breast and prostate cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, depression, heart disease, osteoporosis, bone fractures, and more.

But work isn’t the only reason people are staying up late. Sleep apnea gets many to turn on the lights, too. And sleep apnea compounds the issue. This is because periodic interruption in sleep combined with light exposure can affect the brain. Together, they contribute to anxiety, depression, and a decrease in memory and learning performance.

While dental appliance therapy is one option to address apnea-related insomnia, what the current research clearly shows is the importance of limiting exposure to artificial light.

In addition to reevaluating personal habits, you may benefit from consulting a medical professional, as well. There are lots of non-narcotic options available to help.

The pay-off for making changes? As one of the study’s authors put it,

The good news is that we subsequently showed that these negative effects on health are reversible when the environmental light-dark cycle is restored.

Top image by nicolee_camacho, via Flickr;
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