Our human mind has a tendency to be afraid of the dark because of primordial instincts, not knowing that it is beneficial to our health. Indeed, studies have linked a variety of health problems with dim-light overexposure during natural night hours. It’s not innocuous considering that the health issues in question include cancer, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and anxiety disorders. It raises concerns about the overuse of computers, televisions or phones during night hours and shows that our increasing illuminated nights comes at a health cost.
Adding to the growing body of evidence, a new study, published in scientific reports, brings the risks associated with nighttime light exposure to another level.
The study on animals shows that hamster pups are born with weakened immune systems and impaired endocrine activity when their parents don’t receive a natural mix of daylight and darkness prior to mating. It shows for the first time in these hamsters that it’s possible this damage isn’t just being done to the affected individuals, but to their offspring as well. It’s especially important to note that the negative changes seen in the pups were traced to both parents.
Based on animal model, these findings suggest that couple chronic exposure to dim-light during nighttime could possibly have consequences on their future child. Unknowingly, parents-to-be can pass along possible genetic modifications that impair immune response and decrease endocrine activity to their offspring.
Our brain contains a master clock — circadian clock — located in the hypothalamus and the timing of this clock regulates our circadian rhythm, a natural 24-hours internal system that is designated to synchronize our biological processes and behavior. Our new lifestyle tends to shift to a more nocturnal life compared to our ancestors, and the ramifications of this chronic disruption of the circadian clock for mental and physical health are not yet fully understood. That’s why the use of animal models for circadian disruption provides an opportunity to determine mechanisms by which disruptions in the circadian system can lead to metabolic dysfunction.
It doesn’t mean that we need to go back to Neanderthal times and banish electricity, but we can try to get the best of technology while following a more natural lifestyle by listening to our body rhythms.