The Negative Effects of Light on Sleep Hits Differently For Men

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It might be time to lose that night light.

Anyone who sleeps with a partner of the opposite sex might have been in their fair share of tiffs over how much light should be a part of their sleeping routine. There are those who prefer pitch black conditions, those who must have a small night light or a cracked door with a hallway or bathroom light on, and those who sleep with the lights on or even the blinds open.

But, a new survey shows that the negative impact light might have on sleep differs for men and women. The survey, conducted in March by 24/7 blinds and reviewed by Sleepopolis, analyzed input from over 2,000 British participants, and concluded that over half of Brits claim light damages their ability to sleep well. 

In addition, the researchers found significant differences for men and women, namely that men are twice as likely to have sleep disrupted by natural light than women. Both men and women reported similar levels of disturbance with artificial light, however. The concept of light inhibiting our sleep is now referred to as “light pollution.”

The survey further showed that only 1 in 5 feel they really understand all the factors that go into great sleep, including the impact of light pollution. Those in busy cities struggled more with the disruptive lights, as well. Similarly, other disturbances have been messing up sleep, including 41 percent who found noise to be an issue, and 22 percent battling the other type of pollution — air quality.

Dr. Chun Tang, a general physician who helped 24/7 blinds analyze the findings, shared the “why” behind the sex-related differences in the findings. “One potential explanation for this difference is hormonal variation. Melatonin, a hormone cruical for regulating sleep-wake cycles, can be influenced by sex hormones. Some research suggests that hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle may impact how women respond to light exposure compared to men.”

Previous research, such as a 2021 study on a similar topic, revealed differences in the sexes and their sensitivity to light during sleep as well. (1) Researchers pointed to women exhibiting more slow-wave activity at dim light melatonin onset in certain regions of their brain. In addition, they note that women may have shorter average intrinsic circadian periods, higher amplitude of melatonin rhythms, and lower amplitude of core body temperature. Their melatonin timing and other sleep rhythms also might differ from mens’, the study showed. All this is to say, there’s lots going on beneath the surface when it comes to just how detrimental light might be for men versus women, and for all sleepers in general.

In short, we are able to better produce melatonin in total darkness. So, research might put to bed the nightlight debate once and for all.

  • 1. Chellappa SL. Individual differences in light sensitivity affect sleep and circadian rhythms. Sleep. 2021 Feb 12;44(2):zsaa214. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa214. PMID: 33049062; PMCID: PMC7879412.

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice.  She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

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