Where you live may play a major role in your sleep quantity and quality, new research suggests.
Lights from buildings, streetlights, highways, billboards and backyards illuminate towns, cities and miles of surrounding area. While they may provide a sense of comfort and safety, they aren’t doing you any favors when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
Over an eight-year period, researchers interviewed nearly 16,000 study participants about their sleep habits and quality, while also determining whether or not they suffered from any medical or psychiatric issues that may influence sleep patterns.
After collecting this information, researchers used data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program to determine how much light participants were exposed to at night.
Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed who reside in more intensely lit areas reported being dissatisfied with their sleep quantity and/or quality.
The results of the study suggest that, in urban areas with more than 500,000 inhabitants, light exposure is three to six times more intense than in smaller towns or rural areas. Researchers also found that exposure to light causes sleep disturbances and a disruption in the duration of sleep.
High levels of light exposure overnight led urban-dwelling individuals to wake up during the night feeling confused more often than those in less illuminated places.
“Light exposure during the night certainly can alter your sleep/wake rhythm resulting in suboptimal sleep,” says Dr. Darius Loghmanee, a sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. But that isn’t the only factor to consider, he says.
“It’s important, however, to recognize that areas with high and low levels of light pollution differ significantly in terms of culture and lifestyle as well, and these factors play a significant role in how well a population sleeps. For example, those who live in areas with a higher density of coffee shops and are in the habit of drinking coffee throughout the day would also be at risk of having worse sleep.”
While avoiding light pollution may be associated with optimal sleep, Dr. Loghmanee says this is only one among many factors that warrant careful consideration when attempting to improve sleep in a population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also attributes a lack of sleep to a multitude of conditions, including diabetes, obesity, depression and injury. In fact, they estimate that 25 percent of Americans lack sleep, while chronic insomnia affects 10 percent of the population.
Anyone looking to darken their sleep space might consider room-darkening shades or wearing a sleep mask.