LED Light Risks
Incandescent lighting has served to illuminate the spaces of mankind since Thomas Edison first patented the lightbulb in the late 19th century. After nearly 130 years of service, this faithful lighting technology has suddenly been forced into retirement to make way for the newer, energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LED) lights. Other forms of lighting have been introduced, including fluorescent and halogen, but none has had the authority to erase incandescent as LED has done.
While this new lighting technology brightly illuminates our homes with their alien-like glow, the energy industry is celebrating a victory. LEDs use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and could have the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States. LED lights are manufactured to eliminate virtually all heat-producing infrared light. Instead, they function on an excess of cool blue light which has been coupled with a yellow phosphor to create the white LED light that falsely emulates natural outdoor light. The lack of heat explains their energy savings since 90% of the energy utilization of incandescent lighting is due to heat production from infrared light.
The energy efficiency of LED lighting cannot be disputed, but perhaps, a more serious outcome of this new technology is being overlooked and would give adequate grounds for debate. Namely, the health impact of LED lighting on humans and sleep disturbances, particularly.
In the past, human exposure to blue light has been limited to the light radiating from the screens of electronic devices, but the use of LED bulbs for domestic lightening has suddenly plunged us into a pool of blue light from the moment we awake to the time we retire.
Many studies have warned against the long-term use of blue light because of its ability to damage cells of the retina (rods and cones) and negatively impact our circadian rhythm. Intense light significantly increases the temperature of the retina and generates a significant amount of free radicals which damage retinal cells. The injuries are cumulative, leading to death of retinal cells and inflammation in the eyes.
The cells of the retina communicate with various organ systems of the body to inform them of the presence and intensity of light. The body can then make decisions regarding which hormones it should produce to either keep us awake and alert, or relaxed for sleep. As the cells of the retina are slowly damaged by LED lighting, our body’s ability to maintain a healthy sleep/wake cycle becomes compromised.
Melatonin is a hormone the body produces to prepare us to sleep. As the cells of our retina communicate light intensity, the body can decide when it is time to start producing melatonin. Blue light tells the body to stay awake and alert, and suppresses the production of melatonin. As we begin to turn on the LED lights in our homes at night, our body is confused as blue light pours into our eyes. Melatonin is suppressed and our circadian rhythm is disrupted. As a result, we have trouble sleeping. One study found a significant, dose-dependent suppression of melatonin with exposure to LED lighting.
The duration of exposure to blue light creates cumulative damage, which is why domestic LED lighting has posed more health risks than intermittent exposure to electronic devices. Disruptions in the circadian rhythm are associated with increased incidence of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cognitive and affective impairment, premature aging, some types of cancer, and many chronic pain and fatigue syndromes which could lead to significant concerns related to the constant use of domestic LEDs. During the day, exposure to blue light stimulates alertness, but problems brew when blue light becomes the primary source of illumination at night.
LED lights not only pose problems to our circadian rhythm through exposure to blue light, but also through the magnetic fields that radiate from them. Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible energy or electrical fields that span our entire environment and interact with the energy fields present in our bodies and in physical objects around us. Parents, doctors, and general consumers have been increasingly concerned about the possibility of long term health effects from exposure to EMF radiation. The strongest sources of EMF radiation include our electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, tablets, plasma televisions, routers and modems, utility “smart” meters, and remotes.
Melatonin secretion from the pineal gland is very sensitive to the influences from electric, magnetic and electromagnetic field. A study of 50 electronic equipment service technicians, exposed to various levels of EMF radiation, found significantly decreased levels of melatonin. Although LED lighting does not pose the same threat or possess the same degree of EMF radiation as electronic devices, the influence of EMF radiation, coupled with LED lightening can create a disaster for the circadian rhythm and quality of sleep. Using electronic devices such as a cell phone or tablet at night is particularly concerning since they shine blue light and radiate EMF waves.
The importance of quality and predictable rest and sleep can’t be overstated, especially for those with chronic pain and fatigue syndromes. Our circadian rhythm is set by the natural light-dark cycles and when the blue light and EMF radiation of LED lighting threatens that natural cycle, our health becomes compromised. Many modern-day diseases, including fibromyalgia, have been associated with sleep disturbances.
Sadly, the incandescent light bulbs are quickly being depleted from the market, leaving conscious consumers with very few options for safe lighting. Halogen lighting, a close relative of incandescent, may be the only option for light bulbs. If we understand the risks of LED lights we can be more aware of how often we use them.
- US Department of Energy. LED Lighting. Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://energy.gov/energysaver/led-lighting
- Tosini, G., Ferguson, I., & Tsubota, K. (2016). Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Molecular Vision, 22, 61–72.
- Shang, et al. (2017). Light-emitting-diode induced retinal damage and its wavelength dependency in vivo. International Journal of Ophthalmology, 10(2), 191–202. http://doi.org/10.18240/ijo.2017.02.03
- Walsh, C., Prendergast, R., Sheridan, J., & Murphy, B. (2013). Blue light from light-emitting diodes directed at a single eye elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in horses. The Veterinary Journal, 196(2), 231-235. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2012.09.003
- Bonmati-Carrion, et al. (2014). Protecting the Melatonin Rhythm through Circadian Healthy Light Exposure. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 15(12), 23448–23500. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijms151223448
- Lewczuk, B., Redlarski, G., Żak, A., Ziółkowska, N., Przybylska-Gornowicz, B., & Krawczuk, M. (2014). Influence of Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields on the Circadian System: Current Stage of Knowledge. BioMed Research International, 2014, 169459. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/169459
- David Brady