Warning for LED Lighting

Our earlier lighting technology is rapidly being replaced by LEDs (light-emitting diode).  The LED’s are far more energy efficient, longer lasting and produce excellent light quality, compared to the other sources of lighting.  The US Department of Energy says the LED lights use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.  Compared to no LED use, widespread LED use in the US by 2027, could save the equivalent electrical output of 44 large electric power plants each year, adding up to a total of at least $30 billion in savings, according to DOE.  There is a mix of red, green and blue light, which is usually combined to make white light in the LEDs, and is being used for about 10% of US municipalities for their streetlights.  Making this change to LED creates a new set of potential problems.

The American Medical Association is giving warnings about these LED streetlights.  The AMA issued new guidance for communities at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the AMA on how to reduce the harmful human and environmental effects of high-intensity (LED) street lighting.  Dr. Maya A Babu, an AMA Board Member, said that despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting.  The high-intensity LED lighting emits a large amount of blue light and appears white to the naked eye.  The risks to nighttime drivers include:

  • Worse nighttime glare than conventional lighting
  • Discomfort and disability caused by the intense lighting may decrease visual acuity and safety, resulting in concerns and creating a road hazard

They also said that blue-rich LED streetlights operate at a wavelength that adversely suppresses melatonin at night and has 5 timers greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms that may lead to:

  • Reduced sleep times
  • Dissatisfaction with sleep quality
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Impaired daytime functioning
  • Obesity

In the communities in California that have made the switch to LED, some residents have gone so far as to demand the harsh lighting be removed.  Public reaction caused the council to put the light replacement on hold.  The new LED fixtures (about 1,400 already installed) were replaced with lower-intensity bulbs.  Similar scenario also occurred in New York City.

The LED lights’ significant impact on melatonin is a big deal.  The brain starts secreting melatonin around darkness, which makes you sleepy.  These occurring secretions are what help regulate your sleep cycle and also provide other health benefits, including helping to prevent cancer.  When exposed to LED lighting often at night, it could have a profoundly negative influence on your health.  So according to AMA, light pollution via LED streetlights, pose environmental risks and are recommending minimizing the use of blue-rich light at night.  Red and amber lights will not suppress the melatonin when the white blue, green and white lights do.  This includes the light by your TV, computer and other electronic screens.

It is recommended that you dim your lights and turn off electronic devices to reduce your exposure to light that might stifle your melatonin production.  Cover your windows with drapes or blackout shades, especially if you have LED streetlights outside your bedroom window that might prevent your sleep and production of melatonin.

-Dr Fredda Branyon