Artificial Lighting and Our Health

Is there a link between artificial light and cancer?

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Dr. Richard Stevens
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Leo Smith
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Artificial Lights
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Artificial Lights

Remember those big storms that left many of us in the dark for days and even weeks? We all went scrambling to power up our computers, recharge our smart phones, and grab a bite to eat in a warm and well-lit restaurant. The dark didn’t feel quite right.

But, maybe a little more dark is what we need.  

UConn researcher Richard Stevens is a cancer epidemiologist at UCONN Medical Center who studies the impact of artificial light on our health. He joined us on Where We Live five years ago, to talk about his research into the causes of a rise in breast cancer rates and said,

“About 20 years ago we started thinking about what else changes with industrialization. The lighting changes, people doing shift work, people not gettting enough dark.”

Now, more people are paying attention to his work.

The American Medical Association just called for more study into the possible link between the artificial light and a higher risk for cancer, obesity, and other conditions.

There’s also a new study from Ohio State University researchers who found that hamsters chronically exposed to light at night showed signs of depression within a few weeks.

Today, where we live, we’ll try to get out of the dark about the dangers of artificial light - from overhead fluorescents to reading your iPad right before bed, a look at what all this light is doing to our sleep and our health.

Do you stay up at night to watch television or surf the net?  Are you a night shift worker or a nightowl?   



Jeff writes:

In regard to the street lighting and the perception of safety there have been studies that have shown that less light is actually safer. The eye adapts to the brightest object in the visual field so the best place to "hide" is right outside the fall of the illumination or actually at the base of the light post in some cases.

Jeff writes:

Can you tell us if there have been any studies suggesting that time spent in working in dim light (ex: reading in dim rather than bright light) is potentially good for the eyes - as if the eye is like a muscle, and it 'exercises' them? Thanks.

Dave writes:

I have recently discovered a program called f.lux for the computer that overlays an orange filter over your computer screen to eliminate the blue rays at night. It slowly "dims" the screen as the sun sets. It does this by calculating where you are and when the sun will be going down each day. As someone who is on the computer late at night, it makes it much easier for me to fall asleep. It is like a massage for your eyeballs. You can find it at

Steve writes:

The answer for your comment about the land of the midnight sun was just a bit too dismissing. Days of all daylight, days of all night are not compensated only by learning to have a dark location to make night and lights to make day. The animals have no such equipment. I still question this theory about how light affects us.

Are you suggesting that these people did not live there until we invented candles or tamed fore? How do animals deal with it?

Rich writes:

Kudos on the light pollution question.

Casey writes:

DO the new LED light technologies help improve the light reactivity of the neurologic/autistic population??

I work in a school where the kids I teach are negatively affected by flourescent lighting. LED is cheaper... and easy to convert. Do reactive people do better with the LED ceiling lighting?

Paul writes:

If these compact florescent light bulbs are bad for us, and I personally use them all over my house, can your guest recommend which light bulbs a consumer should purchase? Thank you.

Paul writes:

What about children who sleep with the light on? Does that affect their health?

And what about the folks who live in Alaska, where part of the year the sun never rises, and part it never sets?

Steve writes:

Land of the midnight sun. What about their rhythms?