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11 June 2019, 11:23 | Silvia Roy
In other words, exposure to light at night might represent a "constellation" of factors, including those related to unhealthy behaviors, "all of which could contribute to weight gain and obesity", the authors said.
The questionnaire included questions about exposure to light during sleep, and participants indicated whether they slept with no light, a small night light, light outside of the room, or a light or television on in the room.
Keeping a light on might also result in poorer sleep.
The research team used questionnaire data from 43,722 women in the Sister Study, a cohort study that examines risk factors for breast cancer and other diseases. Participants fell between the ages of 35-74, had no history of cancer or cardiovascular disease, and were not shift workers, daytime sleepers, or pregnant at the time of the study.
The study researchers found that women who reported exposure to light at night while sleeping were more likely to gain weight and become obese over almost six years, compared with women who were not exposed to light at night.
The research, which was published online June 10 in JAMA Internal Medicine, is the first to find an association between any exposure to artificial light at night while sleeping and weight gain in women.
Although the new findings aren't conclusive, reducing your exposure to light and night may not be a bad idea.
"Humans are genetically adapted to a natural environment consisting of sunlight during the day and darkness at night", says co-author Chandra Jackson, Ph.D. However, their findings did not change when analyses controlled for characteristics that may be associated with exposure to light at night.
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Artificial light exposure at night from things like streetlights, storefronts, and even cell phone use, for example, can disrupt the natural light-dark cycle of circadian rhythms and suppress the release of the sleep hormonemelatonin. He is a postdoctoral fellow at the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Those who reported sleeping at night in a room with a television on or a light were more likely to gain at least 4.9 kgs over about five years than those who slept in darkness.
The study, which didn't include men, admits that there are other factors that could explain the weight gain, such as age, race, socioeconomic status, physical activity and calories consumed. Light coming in from the outside didn't appear to have significant effects on weight, while bedroom light did.
It's also possible that reliance on artificial light at night and obesity are both linked to other factors, such as "loneliness, anxiety or some form of social insecurity", Katz said.
Can't catch some sleep without the television on at night? "It seems reasonable to advise people not to sleep with lights on", Park and Sandler said.
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