This Is How (and Why) LED Streetlights Harm Your Sleep

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Why darkness matters

Our bodies need light to keep our internal body clock in rhythm. Morning light tells the body to get ready for the day ahead. Evening darkness tells the body to slow down and prepare for sleep. Problems can occur when we expose ourselves to light in the evening, as the body is expecting darkness.

What's so dangerous about light?

Modern life bombards our body with artificial light. From the television, to computer screens, to our smartphones, our bodies just don't get a break from light exposure. Blue light in particular can suppress the body's production of melatonin, which is an important sleep hormone.

Turning it down

Reducing our exposure to blue light doesn't have to be difficult. It can be as simple as switching off electronic devices and dimming ceiling lights a few hours before bed. Unfortunately we don't have control over all the light sources that are affecting our sleep, though.

Nature vs. nurture

Most of us live in neighborhoods that are lit at night by streetlights. Research finds those who live in areas with more intense evening light are more likely to get less than six hours of sleep compared to those who live in less light-intensive areas. Those living in more intense light areas are also more likely to report fatigue and be less satisfied with the quality of their sleep.

Advancements in tech harmful to sleep

The U.S. Department of Energy is encouraging communities to switch over to LED lighting due to the energy savings offered by the technology. About 10 percent of U.S. street lighting has already been converted to LED technology and the pace of conversions is accelerating. This may be bad news for our sleep.

How LED lights can change your sleep

LED lights are more damaging to our sleep cycles as they emit huge amounts of blue light (which appears white to the naked eye). It's thought that LED streetlights have five times greater impact on our sleep rhythms compared to conventional streetlights.

What you can do

The best way to reduce the negative sleep effects of LED streetlights is to reduce exposure to the light itself. Municipalities can help shield the lights to minimize “light leakage” that illuminates surrounding areas. They can also use less powerful LEDs. Unfortunately, getting municipalities to take this issue seriously can be a problem.

Preventing light leakage

As an individual, you can express your concerns with your local municipality. If they've already installed LED streetlights that are also illuminating your home, ask for the lights to be shielded. If you find out that your town is about to install LED lighting, ask what steps they've taken to reduce light leakage.

Creating the perfect sleep environment for you

Your home is your final line of defense. High quality blackout curtains made from thick fabrics and reinforced with extra lining can prevent light from getting into your bedroom. They should cover the entire window frame (ideally a couple of inches beyond), not just the window.

Added bonus: reducing cost

Blackout curtains can also help reduce energy costs by keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Just remember that our bodies still need light, so don't become a hermit! If you do invest in blackout curtains, be sure to open them up first thing in the morning and keep them open until it's dark to expose yourself to as much natural daylight as possible.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.