It seems that in today's world, we are surrounding by lights. From the artificial glow of our room lights to the light emitted from our phones and computers, the world is proving to be a lot less dark than it once was.
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It looks like that light is going to come at a serious cost, however. New research has found that mice who are exposed to too much light have a serious problem with their health after they are removed from a natural day/night cycle.
"Our study shows that the environmental light-dark cycle is important for health," says neuroscientist Johanna Meijer from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. "We showed that the absence of environmental rhythms leads to severe disruption of a wide variety of health parameters."
Meijer and her team took the mice and exposed them to constant light for 24 weeks, measuring the animals' response to having consistent lighting without a break, according to the study report in Current Biology.
Of the more than 130 mice that were involved in the study, half of them lost muscle and bone mass, which could be an early sign of osteoporosis. They also found inflammation in their immune systems, which would be a sign of a pathogen or harmful stressors.
To sum it up, it could be said that constant lighting ages us. However, there are also some signs that the damage isn't permanent.
"The good news is that we subsequently showed that these negative effects on health are reversible when the environmental light-dark cycle is restored," says Meijer.
Researchers also looked at brain activity during the experiment. They found that there was a lot of disruption to the circadian rhythms of the mice which caused the health problems. Once away from the experiment for two weeks, the negative impacts began to disappear.
Still, it is a warning sign about how we live our lives today.
"We used to think of light and darkness as harmless or neutral stimuli with respect to health," says Meijer. "We now realize this is not the case… Possibly this is not surprising as life evolved under the constant pressure of the light-dark cycle. We seem to be optimized to live under these cycles, and the other side of the coin is that we are now affected by a lack of such cycles."
The findings build on other types of research that show that living in "eternal sunshine" will be dangerous in creating a disconnection from nature.
"Disconcertingly, human lifestyles under artificial conditions of eternal summer provide the most extreme example for disconnect from natural seasons, making humans vulnerable to increased morbidity and mortality," the researchers wrote in the study.
It is possible that due to the placement of the lighting, the results may be exaggerated.
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"We came to know that smoking was bad, or that sugar is bad, but light was never an issue," Meijer said. "Light and darkness matter."