Teenagers living in cities with high levels of light pollution get less sleep and are MORE likely to be mentally unstable than adolescents in the countryside
- Researchers examined light pollution and mental stability of 10,000 teenagers
- They found a link between high levels of light pollution and bipolar disorder
- Authors say this is due to teens in well-lit cities often getting much less sleep
It’s not just astronomers that have a problem with light pollution, a new study found it is causing mental health problems for teenagers living in cities.
A team from the US National Institute for Health reviewed data on sleep-patterns and mental health of over 10,000 teenagers living in the US between 2001 and 2004.
Teenagers living in areas with high levels of light pollution such as cities were more likely to be bipolar or suffer from other mental health conditions, researchers found.
Bipolar disorder is one of the most common conditions in the UK, affecting around three million people and leading to an estimated 800 suicides every year.
This increase in mental health problems is likely caused by changes to sleep cycles as a result of living in an area where the night sky never gets properly dark.
Teenagers living in areas with high levels of light pollution such as cities were more likely to be bipolar or suffer from other mental health conditions, researchers found. Stock image
Author Dr Diana Paksarian said our body rhythms such as the circadian rhythm drive sleep-wake cycles and are important factors in mental and physical health.
Too much artificial light at night disrupts these rhythms and causes problems for biological processes such as hormone levels, body temperature and sleep cycle.
Most studies have focused on the effects of indoor artificial lights, while little attention has been paid to what happens outdoors.
Co-author Dr Kathleen Merikangas said environmental light exposure is only one factor in a more complex network of influences on sleep and behaviour.
However, she added that it is likely to be an important target for prevention and interventions in adolescent health, particularly their mental health.
The dataset included information about individual-level and neighbourhood characteristics, mental health outcomes, and sleep patterns.
The study included data from a total of 10,123 teens, ages 13 to 18 years old from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
Teens were asked about their sleep habits, what time they usually go to bed and how many hours of sleep they usually got on weekdays and weekends.
They were also asked to complete a ‘validated assessment’ to determine whether they suffered from any mental disorders.
Bipolar disorder is one of the most common conditions in the UK, affecting around three million people and leading to an estimated 800 suicides every year. Stock image
Researchers then used satellite imagery to calculate levels of artificial light in the areas where each of the teenagers completing the surveys lived.
Light levels in each neighbourhood varied depending on whether it was an urban area, how wealthy it was and the population density.
STREET LAMPS ‘MAY INCREASE BREAST CANCER RISK’ BY 10%
Living in a bustling metropolis may increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer compared to living in the countryside, a study suggests.
Researchers found high levels of exposure to artificial outdoor light at night time could increase the risk of the disease by 10 per cent in post-menopausal women.
Although the study does not provide an explanation for the link, previous research has found that artificial light can interfere with the production of the hormone melatonin, which inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells.
Breast cancer affects more than two million women globally ever year and claims the lives of 11,500 women in the UK alone every 12 months.
A 16-year study compared rates of breast cancer in almost 200,000 women with satellite images of outdoor light pollution around where they lived.
Teens who lived in places with a lot of man made light, tended to go to bed later during the week and sleep less on weekends.
In places with the most amount of light pollution, teenagers went to bed half an hour later during the week and enjoyed ten minutes less sleep on weekends.
The researchers found the lack of sleep increased the likelihood of having a mood or anxiety disorder, in particular bipolar disorder and phobias.
Bipolar disorder causes uncontrollable mood swings, affecting the person’s energy levels, and ability to concentrate and fulfil day-to-day tasks.
‘This association is noteworthy because disruptions to sleep and circadian rhythms is a well-documented feature of certain mental disorders, including bipolar disorder.
‘The study findings point to disrupted sleep as a possible link between artificial nighttime light exposure and mental health outcomes, a link that should be tested in future prospective research,’ said Paksarian.
Teens who come from poorer backgrounds or belong to racial and ethnic minority groups were more likely to live in places with higher levels of man made light.
In future the team hopes to examine the different properties of artificial light such as brightness and ‘spectral composition’.
They hope this will help them to understand how different lights could help teens get a good night’s sleep and improve their mental health.
‘These findings illustrate the importance of joint consideration of both broader environmental-level and individual-level exposures in mental health and sleep research,’ said Paksarian.
The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
BIPOLAR DISORDER CAN CAUSE ‘EXTREME MOOD SWINGS’ AND EPISODES OF DEPRESSION
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, can cause people to have extreme mood swings.
It gives them episodes of depression – feeling very low and lethargic – and mania, feeling very high and overactive.
Each extreme episode of the condition can last for several weeks, and some sufferers may not often experience a ‘normal’ mood.
Treatment options for managing bipolar disorder include mood stabilisers or psychological treatment, such as talking therapy.
Doing regular exercise and planning activities that give a sense of achievement are also recommended by the NHS.
Bipolar disorder is believed to be caused by extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events – as well as genetic and chemical factors.
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