Sleeping with the TV on may make you gain weight, research suggests

Alicia Farmer
June 12, 2019

Women, beware: Sleeping with a light on or the TV going in your bedroom could make you put on weight.

"Humans are genetically adapted to a natural environment consisting of sunlight during the day and darkness at night", said study co-author Chandra Jackson, PhD, from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in a statement.

Measurements were also taken to record each woman's weight, height, and her waist-to-hip ratio (which can be used to gauge where fat sits on the body).

Obesity affects 39.8 percent of adults in the USA, according to government data; in Australia, two-thirds of adults (67 percent) are overweight or obese. On top of this, a shorter sleep simply means more time awake, and therefore more time to eat.

They were also unable to disentangle the relationship between ALAN and factors such as an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress and other sleep characteristics - nor did they ask women why they slept with a light on.

The researchers analyzed health and lifestyle data on almost 44,000 US women enrolled in an ongoing study seeking clues to causes of breast cancer.

The research team gathered questionnaire data from 43,722 women who participated in the Sister Study, which examines the risk factors for diseases such as breast cancer. A normal or healthy BMI is typically considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9.

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Others reported light shining in from porch lights, vehicle headlights or street lights, as well as light from other rooms.

Women who reported more than one type of artificial light were categorized at the highest level of exposure. Participants' weight was recorded at the start of the study, and they were followed for an average of 5.7 years.

"While sleeping with a small night light was not associated with putting on pounds, researchers found that women who slept with a room light or television on were 17 percent more likely to have gained approximately 11 pounds or more during the study's follow-up period". "It seems reasonable to advise people not to sleep with lights on", Park and Sandler said.

"Another limitation is that our data are based on self-reports", Sandler said.

"These results suggest that exposure to [artificial light at night] while sleeping may be a risk factor for weight gain and development of overweight or obesity", the researchers conclude.

The new findings, published today (June 10) in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that "reducing exposure to artificial light at night while sleeping might be a useful strategy to prevent obesity", study lead author Dr. Yong-Moon Park, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and senior author Dale Sandler, chief of the NIEHS's Epidemiology Branch, told Live Science in an email.

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