Light exposure during sleep impairs cardiometabolic function

Ivy C. Mason, Daniela Grimaldi, Kathryn J. Reid, Chloe D. Warlick, Roneil Gopal Malkani, Sabra M. Abbott, Phyllis C. Zee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


This study tested the hypothesis that acute exposure to light during nighttime sleep adversely affects next-morning glucose homeostasis and whether this effect occurs via reduced sleep quality, melatonin suppression, or sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation during sleep. A total of 20 young adults participated in this parallel-group study design. The room light condition (n = 10) included one night of sleep in dim light (<3 lx) followed by one night of sleep with overhead room lighting (100 lx). The dim light condition (n = 10) included two consecutive nights of sleep in dim light. Measures of insulin resistance (morning homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance, 30-min insulin area under the curve [AUC] from a 2-h oral glucose tolerance test) were higher in the room light versus dim light condition. Melatonin levels were similar in both conditions. In the room light condition, participants spent proportionately more time in stage N2 and less in slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep. Heart rate was higher and heart rate variability lower (higher sympathovagal balance) during sleep in the room light versus the dim light condition. Importantly, the higher sympathovagal balance during sleep was associated with higher 30-min insulin AUC, consistent with increased insulin resistance the following morning. These results demonstrate that a single night of exposure to room light during sleep can impair glucose homeostasis, potentially via increased SNS activation. Attention to avoiding exposure to light at night during sleep may be beneficial for cardiometabolic health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2113290119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 22 2022


  • Insulin resistance
  • Light
  • Metabolism
  • Sleep
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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