Anyone who has paid slightest attention to environmental news in the past decade is well aware of the growing and lasting effects of man-made pollution. However, as if mere environmental pollution wasn’t enough, new studies have shown that the effects of man-made, artificial light have not only taken tolls on the environment but that light pollution (yes, light pollution) has also had long unforeseen effects on mental and physical health.
Rebecca Boyle, writer for Aeon Magazine, compiled data from different studies regarding light pollution to conclude that artificial light is a contributor to the development of cancer, obesity, depression and insomnia in humans.
Just as waste pollution is detrimental to the longevity of some marine life, light pollution has disrupted natural patterns of bird migration, causing birds to become disoriented in the blazing lights of a big city or a highway, falling to their deaths.
Insects are naturally attracted to light, causing them to commune around artificial sources and die of exhaustion.
More detrimental, however, are the health effects of artificial light on humans.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the brain that is made for the protection of DNA. Studies show that as humans spend increasingly more time in front of an artificially illuminate screen, melatonin levels tend to significantly drop.
The effects of lower melatonin levels are very detrimental; as cancer develops from mutated DNA, artificial light increases risks for cancer.
Since melatonin is derived from serotonin (another brain dwelling hormone that affects mood and appetite) lower melatonin levels can also lead to depression and insomnia, which in turn can increase the risk of obesity. Lower melatonin levels are a direct consequence of not enough sleep, because it develops when the brain is in slumber.
Boyle mentions that 90% of all Americans spend up to an hour in front of an artificially illuminated screen before they go to sleep.
Natural light, as well as a natural lack of light, is core to the biology of all life on earth. There is a reason for humans why half of every day is dark just as there is a reason for plants why half of every day is light. Millions of years of evolution have been erected out of this natural balance, striving for a chemical makeup that promotes a healthy life.
Whether the human invention of artificial light was actually the next natural step in evolution is another separate debate; but the fact that too much artificial light disrupts natural ecosystems and natural health is in no debate. As an early observer of life, Aristotle once noted, “Everything in moderation.”