Light at Night and Disrupted Circadian Rhythms Alter Physiology and Behavior

Integr Comp Biol. 2021 Oct 4;61(3):1160-1169. doi: 10.1093/icb/icab017.


Life on earth has evolved during the past several billion years under relatively bright days and dark nights. Virtually all organisms on the planet display an internal representation of the solar days in the form of circadian rhythms driven by biological clocks. Nearly every aspect of physiology and behavior is mediated by these internal clocks. The widespread adoption of electric lights during the past century has exposed animals, including humans, to significant light at night (LAN) for the first time in our evolutionary history. Importantly, endogenous circadian clocks depend on light for synchronization with the external daily environment. Thus, LAN can derange temporal adaptations. Indeed, disruption of natural light-dark cycles results in several physiological and behavioral changes. In this review, we highlight recent evidence demonstrating how LAN exposure can have serious implications for adaptive physiology and behavior, including immune, endocrine, and metabolic function, as well as reproductive, foraging, and migratory behavior. Lastly, strategies to mitigate the consequences of LAN on behavior and physiology will be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Environmental Pollution*
  • Light*
  • Photoperiod*
  • Sunlight