The researchers analyzed health and lifestyle data on almost 44,000 USA women enrolled in an ongoing study seeking clues to causes of breast cancer. The women, who were enrolled in the Sister Study group, had no history of cancer or cardiovascular disease and weren't shift workers, daytime sleepers or pregnant at the study's start.
"These results suggest that exposure to [artificial light at night] while sleeping may be a risk factor for weight gain and development of overweight or obesity", the researchers conclude. The National Institutes of Health released new evidence Monday that too much exposure to light at night could pose health risks.
Eliminating lights and screens from bedrooms could be an important step in fighting the obesity crisis, the researchers believe.
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.
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"Public health strategies to decrease obesity might consider interventions aimed at reducing ALAN while sleeping", wrote Dale Sandler and Yong-Moon Mark Park of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina and coauthors.
In the current study, women who slept with a television or light on in their room were more likely to have a BMI that put them in the overweight or obese range and to experience at least a 10 percent increase in BMI during the study than women who slept in total darkness. Many - about 17,000 - slept with a nightlight in the room, while more than 13,000 left a light on outside the bedroom and about 5,000 slept with a television or light on in the bedroom. In fact, the data from a five-year period shows that those who have a TV or other light source on while they sleep gained over 10 pounds during that timeframe. She notes that for many who live in urban environments, light at night is more common and should be considered.
Previous studies have found a link between exposure to light at night and obesity in humans.
Women who reported more than one type of artificial light were categorized at the highest level of exposure. "It's a pretty easy prevention effort to just turn off the lights before you go to bed", Ms Sandler said.
'We know from experimental studies in people that light at night affects our metabolism in ways that are consistent with increased risk of metabolic syndrome.