How Thomas Edison Unintentionally Increased Diabetes

Exposing light to your eyes at night may have some unforeseeable consequences. (Photo by bramanz at Flickr)

Winter is quickly approaching, the days are getting much shorter, and we’re constantly battling darkness with artificial lighting. Can this undermine our efforts to maintain a healthy weight, blood sugar levels and mood? As a matter of fact it can, yet I don’t think Thomas Edison quite knew that when he invented the light bulb.

The Effects of Light on Blood Sugar, Weight and Mood

Natural light from the sun is received through our eyes (without sunglasses) to activate the pineal gland in the brain. This helps to facilitate the production of seratonin, the hormone responsible for waking us up in the morning as well as producing that ‘feel-good’ feeling. This is why humans are generally awake during the day, and not at night.

At night, when darkness falls and light recedes, our brain production of seratonin falls, and melatonin sets in. This is when that feeling of sleepiness comes over us, pushing us to rest our bodies and our minds, essential for restoration and rejuvenation. When we force too much artificial light on our eyes during times of darkness, we push our body to produce too much seratonin and too little melatonin, working against our natural bio-rhythms.

This can be very harmful for those who work night shifts, or for the winter months when we experience more darkness than light. When we confuse our brains and interact with our circadian rhythms (the biological rhythms in our brains and bodies that govern night and day), we increase our diabetes risk. In fact, a recent study involving 177,000 women who worked night shifts showed that over 10,000 developed type II diabetes.

Here’s a study specifically dealing with light at night and it’s link to diabetes risk. This research suggest that proper melatonin production, secreted at night, is needed for correct blood glucose management during the day and night time.

Not only that, with poor blood sugar control, we increase the chances of becoming overweight. Those who work night shifts are more likely to be over weight than those who simply work during the day. Although Thomas Edison’s invention did help increase the amount of work produced, should we really be sacrificing our health when we can avoid it?

Mood is affected with natural sunlight in a positive way, but seems to have the opposite effect when the eyes are exposed to artificial lighting during the night time hours. Artificial lighting from full spectrum bulbs may actually mimic the sun’s beneficial seratonin production, but only during the day. Our bodies are not meant to produce much seratonin during the night, as melatonin is needed more for healing and growth, as well as urging the body to sleep.

Sleeping in Complete Darkness

If you are having trouble sleeping, it may be due to the effect of night time light coming in at you through the TV, windows, alarm clock or other items. The iPad and the Kindle, although great for book reading, should be avoided at night when our minds need quiet and darkness.


Sleeping in light may increase our overall blood sugar, making our cells less sensitive to insulin over time. This causes insulin resistence, or type II diabetes, making darkness an important priority for developing an all-around holistic health plan that includes knowledge and prevention.


Darn you, Thomas Edison! I am grateful to you, but how come you didn’t mention this?

Tips for Healthy Blood Sugar

  1. Receive adequate natural sunlight through the eyes everyday. No, don’t look directly into the sun. Just take 10-15 minutes to expose your bare skin and eyes to sunlight (indirectly for the eyes) to help produce seratonin (and later melatonin) and vitamin D. Regulating our circadian rhythms and vitamin D status through sunlight is one of the most natural, powerful ways of regulating our blood sugar levels throughout the day.
  2. Exercise, as this makes cell receptors more sensitive to the effects of insulin.
  3. Make the majority of carbohydrate consumption come from fresh vegetables and low-glycemic fruits (with high glycemic fruits on occasion). Grain carbohydrates are non-essential foods, and I choose not to eat them as they are too low in fiber, protein and fat, and very high on the glycemic index. Every now and then I’m sure it will not hurt the majority of healthy individuals.
  4. Laugh. Reducing stress can have a positive effect on blood sugar and insulin levels.
  5. Sleep in total darkness to help produce natural melatonin, also helping to regulate blood sugar by regulating health circadian rhythms. A warning on supplemental melatonin: It can raise blood sugar, so it is best to take caution with taking its synthetic form.

The holidays are upon us! What are you doing to prepare? I have gingerbread men baked and ready to post, so stay tuned for that.

Until then, this is The Healthy Advocate.

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