Metabolic Implications of Exposure to Light at Night: Lessons from Animal and Human Studies

ObesityVolume 28, Issue S1


First published: 23 July 2020

Giulia Fleury, Anayanci Masís‐Vargas, Andries Kalsbeek


Lately, the incidence of overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes has shown a staggering increase. To prevent and treat these conditions, one must look at their etiology. As life on earth has evolved under the conditions of nature’s 24‐hour light/dark cycle, it seems likely that exposure to artificial light at night (LAN) would affect physiology. Indeed, ample evidence has shown that LAN impacts many metabolic parameters, at least partly via the biological clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. This review focuses on the impact of chronic and acute effects of LAN of different wavelengths on locomotor activity, food intake, the sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, melatonin, glucocorticoids, and glucose and lipid metabolism. While chronic LAN disturbs daily rhythms in these parameters, experiments using short‐term LAN exposure also have shown acute negative effects in metabolically active peripheral tissues. Experiments using LAN of different wavelengths not only have indicated an important role for melanopsin, the photopigment found in intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, but also provided evidence that each wavelength may have a specific impact on energy metabolism. Importantly, exposure to LAN has been shown to impact glucose homeostasis also in humans and to be associated with an increased incidence of overweight, obesity, and atherosclerosis.

Figure 2 Summary of the metabolic implications of exposure to light at night. TSH, thyroid-stimulating hormone; FFA, free
fatty acids; TG, triglycerides; LDL, low-density lipoprotein; HDL, high-density lipoprotein; RER, respiratory exchange ratio.

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