What a silly question, you might logically conclude, but research indicates the significant role sleep plays and how a fascinating study now indicates the role sleep plays. Did you know that reading yourself to sleep or texting into the wee hours of the morning raise your risk of cancer? You bet it can. Exposing yourself to artificial light at night shuts down your body’s production of an important hormone called melatonin.
Our biological clock is regulated and controlled by light and dark cycles.
We all know that a good night’s sleep is important, but not how it is critical to your health in light of our continuous exposure to light after sunset.
But first, let me share a little background information with you, as I discovered critical information I am compelled to share with you. In June 2012, the American Medical Association House of Delegates voted to support the recommendations of a groundbreaking report on the “ Light Pollution: The Adverse Effects of Night Time Lighting.”
Most people aren't aware of the damage artificial light causes, especially its effect on people working night shifts. Studies consistently have determined that shift workers are at a higher risk for breast cancer, heart disease and other health problems.
It’s important to increase the awareness of the general health risks, so that people can make informed decisions about their health," he said. It is proven that prolonged exposure to artificial light disrupts the body's biological clock that regulates sleep and wakefulness, known as circadian rhythms. Electric interrupts our natural rhythms, and as a result,, hormone and melatonin levels are disrupted and that could lead to the onset of certain diseases.
The AMA now recommends that new technologies be developed to reduce the health risks of indoor and outdoor lighting and calls for more research into the health risks and benefits of exposure to nighttime lighting in workplaces.
"The natural 24-hour cycle of light and dark helps maintain alignment of circadian biological rhythms along with basic processes that help our bodies to function normally," Dr. Alexander Ding, an AMA board member, said Wednesday. "Excessive exposure to nighttime lighting disrupts these essential processes and can create potentially harmful health effects and hazardous situations."
The AMA also recommends that any workplaces with night-shift employees should establish an "employee fatigue risk management plan."
Another of the report's co-authors,
"A major effect of this is that it's going to put those in the scientific community who are on the fence or wary of this area on notice that it's time to get on board with this, that this is the real deal," Dr. David Blask of the Tulane University School of Medicine said. "And that it has the potential to affect all of us, in addition to shift workers."
"I think it's a big deal," Dr. Richard Stevens agreed. "This is a turning point event. When I got started on this, it was like a blip on the radar screen."
He has studied the effects of nighttime lighting for 25 years and was the first researcher to raise the possibility that there might be a connection to breast cancer.
"I asked in a published a paper in 1987: Could the increase in electric light explain the pandemic of breast cancer?" he said. Stevens co-authored nine of the 134 studies cited in the report.
The Powerful Health Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced in your brain and it strengthens your immune system, as well as being a powerful antioxidant that thwarts inflammation. It’s production is triggered by darkness. It stops the growth of many types of cancer cell types, and also triggers cancel cell death known. The hormone also interferes with the development of arteries needed to support rapid tumor growth. Melatonin can boost cancer chemotherapy effectiveness and the harm it causes healthy cells. Low levels reduces the size of your thymus gland, a critical structure within your immune. It helps you to fall asleep and is the chemical basis of comfort and well-being.
Cells throughout your body — even cancer cells — have melatonin receptors. So when melatonin makes its nightly rounds, cell division slows. When this hormone latches onto a breast cancer cell, it has been found to counteract estrogen’s tendency to stimulate cell growth.
Melatonin also impacts a whole host of bodily processes including metabolism, immune function, and, through the endocrine system, helps balance reproductive, thyroid and adrenal hormones. Many health conditions are linked in some degree to an artificially lit world. They include obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), insulin resistance, poor metabolism and heart attacks, and cancers.
Melatonin strengthens the immune system, and may even slow down cellular aging. Low melatonin levels elevate levels of inflammation, impair the immune system and increase the risk of developing cancer.
How Light Pollution Damages Your Biological Rhythms
Inside of our brain is a structure, known as the hypothalamus. It is an important part of your endocrine system, and within it is the suprachiasmatic nucleus of your brain. It stimulates your pineal gland to secrete melatonin. Light exposure after dark sends signals to your brain that disrupts your normal light-dark cycle. The artificial light causes your SCN to stop producing melatonin.
Just a few seconds of light exposure can stop melatonin production and turning off the light does not turn it back on when you turn the light off.
Artificial light exposure is "a man-made self-experiment" that throws sleep off kilter. Artificial lighting disrupts your biological clock and melatonin production, with unfortunate effects on your health.
Increased nighttime light exposure, including light from cell phones, TVs and computers — can cause sleep disorders, especially in children and teenagers. It alters your natural biological clock known as circadian rhythms that are related to light and dark exposure. Too much nighttime prevents adequate melatonin production. Studies have consistently determined that low melatonin levels are extremely harmful, with a wide range of harmful health effects encompassing the entire body. Even low levels of light exposure can seriously interrupt the production of melanin. Less than 40 minutes of nighttime light exposure can cause a 50 percent reduction of melatonin production.
How to Increase Your Melatonin Levels
• Don’t watch TV or using your computer in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed.
• Make sure you get BRIGHT sun exposure regularly.
• Keep your bedroom as dark as possible.
• Use a low-wattage yellow, orange or red light bulb if you need a source of light for navigation at night.
• Begin your morning with a few minutes of exposure to sunshine.