Why is Melatonin so important?

The New York Times recently published an article entitled “In Eyes, a Clock Calibrated by Wavelengths of Light” that looks at what impact light has on us.


The article discusses what our eyes do for us – not only do they allow us to see but they also house sensors that detect the rise and fall of daylight. The body uses this information to regulate an estimated 10% of our genes.


It is the light-sensitive melatonin that does most of the work as it alerts the body to the approximate time of day. The issue for modern humans is that we are bombarded with artificial light at hours of the day where there would normally be no sunlight available.


The availability of artificial light and its disruption of our circadian rhythms not only affects our sleep cycles but may also be contributing to a host of diseases.

“Light works as if it’s a drug, except it’s not a drug at all,” said George Brainard, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The question is then raised of how much artificial light is too much?

In research published in March in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, a team at the Harvard Medical School reported that ordinary indoor lighting before bedtime suppressed melatonin in the brain, even delaying production of the hormone for 90 minutes after the lights were off, compared with people exposed to only dim light.

When looking at what effects the evening light has over and above sleep interference, researchers found the following:

  • a report published last year in the journal PNAS found that mice exposed to light at night gained more weight than those housed in normal light, even though both groups consumed the same number of calories.

  • in 2007, the World Health Organization declared shift work a probable carcinogen. Body clock disruptions “can alter sleep-activity patterns, suppress melatonin production and disregulate genes involved in tumor development,” the agency concluded.


The article concludes with the idea that we are on the edge of a lighting revolution where a new generation of lights and screens will be created which change wavelength depending on the time of day.



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  4. Blue Light may Improve Alertness
  5. Health, Happiness and Sunlight Closely Linked

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