Volume 5, Issue 35 August 30, 2012
Do night lights encourage disease?
What if I told you that one simple little habit that many people have almost completely shuts down the production of one of the most important hormones in the body? Well, there’s really no “what if” about it. It’s true. And a new study is showing just how dramatically it can happen.

I don’t know if many people really appreciate how important melatonin is for health and longevity. Many think of it as little more than a sleep aid. But there is so much more to melatonin than that.

It’s critical for repairing and rejuvenating the body, maintaining the immune system, balancing the other hormones, and fighting cancer just to name some of its major effects.

You probably already know that your body produces melatonin at night while you sleep. And you may know that exposure to light during the night decreases your production of melatonin. But I don’t think any of us would have guessed how strong the anti-melatonin effect of light is. I sure didn’t.

Researchers at the Division of Sleep Medicine in Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment in 116 healthy men and women between the ages of 18-30. First, they had them sleep for a few days in their research center so they could get used to it. Then they measured the amount of melatonin they were making as they slept either in complete darkness, or with a low level light on in the room. I was excited to see this study, as a lot of my patients sleep with a light on at night. It’s a safety issue. They want to be able to see if they have to get up in the night. And I know many parents leave a light on in their children’s rooms. So what’s the effect of that light?

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On average the light in the room suppressed the production of melatonin in these young people by a whopping 73.5%. In some of the participants, the lights almost completely shut down the melatonin production. According to the authors, “These findings indicate that room light exerts a profound suppressive effect on melatonin levels.”

Are you or your children battling an illness? Are you having some sleep or behavioral symptoms, fatigue, hypertension, or blood sugar irregularities? If so, make sure to pay attention to this study. Low levels of melatonin can contribute to these and many other problems.

Keep your room and your children’s rooms completely darkened at night. A small red LED socket light to light the way to the bathroom is okay. But leave the other lights off. This study shows that even low level lights on in the room will dramatically decrease the production of melatonin even though your eyes are closed and you are sleeping.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

Gooley JJ, Chamberlain K, Smith KA, et al. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Mar;96(3):E463-72. Epub 2010 Dec 30.

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