Nocturnal light pollution and underexposure to daytime sunlight: Complementary mechanisms of circadian disruption and related diseases

Chronobiol Int. 2015;32(8):1029-48. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2015.1072002. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


Routine exposure to artificial light at night (ALAN) in work, home, and community settings is linked with increased risk of breast and prostate cancer (BC, PC) in normally sighted women and men, the hypothesized biological rhythm mechanisms being frequent nocturnal melatonin synthesis suppression, circadian time structure (CTS) desynchronization, and sleep/wake cycle disruption with sleep deprivation. ALAN-induced perturbation of the CTS melatonin synchronizer signal is communicated maternally at the very onset of life and after birth via breast or artificial formula feedings. Nighttime use of personal computers, mobile phones, electronic tablets, televisions, and the like--now epidemic in adolescents and adults and highly prevalent in pre-school and school-aged children--is a new source of ALAN. However, ALAN exposure occurs concomitantly with almost complete absence of daytime sunlight, whose blue-violet (446-484 nm λ) spectrum synchronizes the CTS and whose UV-B (290-315 nm λ) spectrum stimulates vitamin D synthesis. Under natural conditions and clear skies, day/night and annual cycles of UV-B irradiation drive corresponding periodicities in vitamin D synthesis and numerous bioprocesses regulated by active metabolites augment and strengthen the biological time structure. Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency are widespread in children and adults in developed and developing countries as a consequence of inadequate sunlight exposure. Past epidemiologic studies have focused either on exposure to too little daytime UV-B or too much ALAN, respectively, on vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency or melatonin suppression in relation to risk of cancer and other, e.g., psychiatric, hypertensive, cardiac, and vascular, so-called, diseases of civilization. The observed elevated incidence of medical conditions the two are alleged to influence through many complementary bioprocesses of cells, tissues, and organs led us to examine effects of the totality of the artificial light environment in which humans reside today. Never have chronobiologic or epidemiologic investigations comprehensively researched the potentially deleterious consequences of the combination of suppressed vitamin D plus melatonin synthesis due to life in today's man-made artificial light environment, which in our opinion is long overdue.

Keywords: Artificial light at night; cancer; circadian time structure; development and disruption; melatonin; sleep/wake cycle disturbance; sunlight; vitamin D; vitamin D deficiency.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lighting / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Sleep Deprivation / complications
  • Sleep Deprivation / etiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology
  • Sunlight*
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / physiology


  • Melatonin