2013 Jul;18(7):751-7. doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.70. Epub 2013 May 28.


Humans and other organisms have adapted to a consistent and predictable 24-h solar cycle, but over the past ~130 years the widespread adoption of electric light has transformed our environment. Instead of aligning behavioral and physiological processes to the natural solar cycle, individuals respond to artificial light cycles created by social and work schedules. Urban light pollution, night shift work, transmeridian travel, televisions and computers have dramatically altered the timing of light used to entrain biological rhythms. In humans and other mammals, light is detected by the retina and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells project this information both to the circadian system and limbic brain regions. Therefore, it is possible that exposure to light at night, which has become pervasive, may disrupt both circadian timing and mood. Notably, the rate of major depression has increased in recent decades, in parallel with increasing exposure to light at night. Strong evidence already links circadian disruption to major depression and other mood disorders. Emerging evidence from the past few years suggests that exposure to light at night also negatively influences mood. In this review, we discuss evidence from recent human and rodent studies supporting the novel hypothesis that nighttime exposure to light disrupts circadian organization and contributes to depressed mood.

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