Light is necessary for life, and artificial light improves visual performance and safety, but there is an increasing concern of the potential health and environmental impacts of light. Findings from a number of studies suggest that mistimed light exposure disrupts the circadian rhythm in humans, potentially causing further health impacts. However, a variety of methods has been applied in individual experimental studies of light-induced circadian impacts, including definition of light exposure and outcomes. Thus, a systematic review is needed to synthesize the results. In addition, a review of the scientific evidence on the impacts of light on circadian rhythm is needed for developing an evaluation method of light pollution, i.e., the negative impacts of artificial light, in life cycle assessment (LCA). The current LCA practice does not have a method to evaluate the light pollution, neither in terms of human health nor the ecological impacts. The systematic literature survey was conducted by searching for two concepts: light and circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm was searched with additional terms of melatonin and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The literature search resulted to 128 articles which were subjected to a data collection and analysis. Melatonin secretion was studied in 122 articles and REM sleep in 13 articles. The reports on melatonin secretion were divided into studies with specific light exposure (101 reports), usually in a controlled laboratory environment, and studies of prevailing light conditions typical at home or work environments (21 studies). Studies were generally conducted on adults in their twenties or thirties, but only very few studies experimented on children and elderly adults. Surprisingly many studies were conducted with a small sample size: 39 out of 128 studies were conducted with 10 or less subjects. The quality criteria of studies for more profound synthesis were a minimum sample size of 20 subjects and providing details of the light exposure (spectrum or wavelength; illuminance, irradiance or photon density). This resulted to 13 qualified studies on melatonin and 2 studies on REM sleep. Further analysis of these 15 reports indicated that a two-hour exposure to blue light (460 nm) in the evening suppresses melatonin, the maximum melatonin-suppressing effect being achieved at the shortest wavelengths (424 nm, violet). The melatonin concentration recovered rather rapidly, within 15 min from cessation of the exposure, suggesting a short-term or simultaneous impact of light exposure on the melatonin secretion. Melatonin secretion and suppression were reduced with age, but the light-induced circadian phase advance was not impaired with age. Light exposure in the evening, at night and in the morning affected the circadian phase of melatonin levels. In addition, even the longest wavelengths (631 nm, red) and intermittent light exposures induced circadian resetting responses, and exposure to low light levels (5-10 lux) at night when sleeping with eyes closed induced a circadian response. The review enables further development of an evaluation method of light pollution in LCA regarding the light-induced impacts on human circadian system.
Keywords: Light; REM sleep; circadian rhythm; health; human health; melatonin.