Red Light for a Healthy Night's Sleep

Reader Contribution by Ellen Sandbeck
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One fine Friday about a year ago, I made a purchase that I had been aching to make for years, but had been unable to, because the product I coveted was not yet on the market. Now it is, and I am the proud owner of two, yes count them, two, RED L.E.D. nightlights!!!! They cost me $6.98 apiece, and I expected wonderful things from them.

Less excitable souls may well wonder at this, and perhaps question my sanity. I have my reasons, which I will be more than happy to elucidate, since I have already had to explain myself, in ninety-two part harmony, to the man in charge of Menard’s lighting section. One would think he’d never seen anyone dancing a jig in his aisle before.

It turned out that the Menard’s man has trouble sleeping, and was quite interested when I told him about the connection between nighttime exposure to any color of light other than red, and the severe disruption of melatonin production.

Some background information about melatonin may be in order here (or perhaps out of order here, since my mind works in a decidedly non-linear fashion):

Melatonin is a hormone that is produced and secreted at night, and only at night, by the pineal gland. Exposure to light at night completely suppresses the production of melatonin. It doesn’t require very bright lights to stop the production of melatonin–bright indoor white light at 300 lux as well as very dim light at 0.25 lux (moonlight is about one lux) were both sufficient to prevent all melatonin production in laboratory animals. And research conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed that even a very brief light exposure suppresses melatonin production in lab animals: a one minute exposure to white light every two hours during the night suppressed melatonin production by 65 percent. The only type of light that does not affect melatonin production is red light.

Melatonin is essential to the regulation of reproduction, body weight, and energy balance, and is necessary for the synchronization of sleep and circadian rhythms. In other words, if you don’t get enough darkness, you have a very good chance of ending up tired, cranky, listless, out of whack, and possibly obese. (Perhaps it’s not just the potato chips we eat while watching TV that are making us fat; maybe the the blue light emanating from the TV is also at fault.)

Recent research has also shown that one of melatonin’s functions is to thwart the growth of cancerous tumors. Researchers began studying the relationship between melatonin and cancer when it became obvious that women who work the night shift have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, and because it was known that nocturnal exposure to light–any color light other than red light–suppresses the normal nightly production of melatonin.

It turns out that human breast cancer cells being grown in live rats, as well as breast cancer cells being grown in petri dishes, proliferate wildly when exposed to artificial lights at night.

It had been more than ten years since I first read about the insidious effects of nighttime light exposure, and ever since then I had been searching for energy-efficient red night lights. Is it any wonder that I was dancing in the aisles?

Photo by Fotolia/Elenathewise