Light Pollution Could Cause Insomnia in Older Adults

Outdoor artificial lights are used to enhance vision for drivers and pedestrians at night and to make communities safer. For older adults who live in areas with higher levels of this outdoor light pollution, it may be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine studied the correlation between exposure to bright, artificial outdoor lights at night and the use of drugs that battle sleeplessness.

About the Study

Researchers found evidence that light pollution is linked to insomnia during their study of more than 50,000 adults over the age of 60. Of the study participants, approximately 22 percent took hypnotic drugs to manage insomnia, and about 60 percent were women. People with a diagnosed sleep disorder were excluded from the study.

The participants were categorized based on the amount of light pollution they were typically exposed to during the night. This data was not self-reported. Instead, researchers utilized satellite data from the National Centers for Environmental Information to estimate the level of light pollution each participant would be exposed to regularly.

Findings indicated that the people who were exposed to greater levels of artificial outdoor lights were more likely to take the sleeping pills more often and at a higher dose. This indicates that being exposed to bright outdoor lighting at night could be a risk factor for insomnia.

How to Combat Light Pollution

In terms of environmental pollutants, light pollution has historically not been a major concern for public health officials. However, this recent scientific evidence indicates a potential connection between light pollution and a serious health condition. More studies are needed to define the prevalence of light pollution adversely affecting human health. If the prevalence is significant, changes to public policy may be initiated.

On an individual level, those with insomnia may find it helpful to limit their exposure to outdoor artificial light at night. If you need help managing your insomnia, make an appointment with your doctor.

Related articles:
Can Caffeine Affect Your Circadian Rhythm?

Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Treatment

Sleep Study: A Simple Exam Can Lead to a Better Night’s Sleep

© 2020 Penn State Health