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Light pollution may increase risk of preterm birth, study finds

Experts say consumers’ exposure to artificial light at night is problematic

Photo (c) becon - Getty Images
Recent studies have highlighted how exposure to high levels of air pollution can affect kids’ development. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Lehigh University has found that exposure to another form of pollution could increase pregnant women’s risk of preterm birth

According to the researchers, light pollution can increase the risk for several pregnancy complications, including premature birth and low birth weight. 

How can consumers’ behaviors contribute to light pollution?

For the study, the researchers measured skyglow and what effect it had on women having a full, healthy pregnancy. Skyglow refers to nighttime brightness, and it is created by both natural and manmade sources -- like the reflection of sunlight on earth or street lights that reflect into the sky. The researchers say high levels of skyglow can be dangerous because it typically means there are higher levels of light pollution. 

The researchers learned that women who were exposed to the highest levels of light pollution were nearly 13 percent more likely to have a premature birth, and those who live in urban areas or major cities were found to be more at risk.

The team believes that nighttime brightness can affect pregnancy because exposure to light disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm. However, this doesn’t just happen due to natural circumstances. Consumers who spend a great deal of time in front of artificial light at night -- such as screens, candles, lamps, etc. -- are more likely to have their circadian rhythms thrown off.

“While greater use of artificial light at night is often associated with greater economic prosperity, our study highlights an often neglected health benefit of darkness,” said researcher Muzhe Yang. “We must realize that the biological clock (i.e., the circadian rhythm) of a human body, like all lives on the earth, needs the ‘darkness’ as part of the light-dark cycle, in order to effectively regulate physiological functions, such as sleep.” 

Though their findings are specifically geared toward pregnant women, the researchers hope that consumers recognize just how detrimental light pollution can be to anyone. 

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