According to a recent Northwestern Medicine study, pregnant women should dim their home’s lights and switch off or at least dim their screens (computer monitors and smartphones) a few hours before bedtime to lower their risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.
In the multi-site trial, women who acquired gestational diabetes mellitus were exposed to more light for three hours before to falling asleep. In comparison to individuals who did not acquire it, they did not differ in their levels of exercise, sleep, or daily light exposure.
“Our study suggests that light exposure before bedtime may be an under-recognized yet easily modifiable risk factor of gestational diabetes,” said lead study author Dr. Minjee Kim, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist.
Growing evidence suggests exposure to light at night before bedtime may be linked to impaired glucose regulation in non-pregnant adults. However, little is known about the effect of evening light exposure during pregnancy on the risk of developing gestational diabetes, a common pregnancy complication with significant health implications for both mother and offspring.
This is believed to be one of the first multi-site studies to examine light exposure before sleep on the risk of developing gestational diabetes.
The study will be published on March 10 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Maternal Fetal Medicine.
Globally and in the United States, gestational diabetes is increasing. Gestational diabetes affected 4.5% of first-time mothers who delivered a child between 2011 and 2013, and it is expected to rise by an average of 3.4% every three years through 2019. Gestational diabetes affected 7.8% of US births in 2020.
“It’s alarming,” Kim said. “Gestational diabetes is known to increase obstetric complications, and the mother’s risk of diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. The offspring also are more likely to have obesity and hypertension as they grow up.”
According to data, women who have gestational diabetes are over ten times more likely than women who don’t to acquire type 2 diabetes mellitus, according to Kim.
Bright lights in your home and electronic devices like TVs, computers, and cell phones can expose you to bright light just before bed.
“We don’t think about the potential harm of keeping the environment bright from the moment we wake up until we go to bed,” Kim said. “But it should be pretty dim for several hours before we go to bed. We probably don’t need that much light for whatever we do routinely in the evening.”
Scientists don’t know which source of bright light causes the problem, but it might all add up, Kim said.
“Try to reduce whatever light is in your environment in those three hours before you go to bed,” Kim said. “It’s best not to use your computer or phone during this period. But if you have to use them, keep the screens as dim as possible,” Kim said, suggesting people use the night light option and turn off the blue light.
Pregnant women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes during subsequent pregnancies if they do so during their first pregnancy.
The heart rate increases before bedtime when it should decrease due to sympathetic overactivity, which is one way that pre-sleep light exposure may impact glucose metabolism. When it is time to relax, the fight-or-flight response appears to be improperly activated, according to Kim.
According to data, sympathetic overactivity may contribute to cardiometabolic disease, a collection of disorders that includes abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, and a lipid profile that all contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Throughout 2011 and 2013, eight clinical U.S. locations conducted the study on 741 pregnant women. A wrist-mounted actigraph was used to gauge the participants’ exposure to light. The measurements were made while the women were in the second trimester of their pregnancies when they were being routinely screened for gestational diabetes.
Pre-sleep light exposure was still substantially correlated with gestational diabetes even after accounting for factors such as age, BMI, race/ethnicity, education, commercial insurance, employment schedule, season, sleep length, midpoint, and regularity index independently.
The rising body mass index and the advancing maternal age have both been partially blamed for the rising risk of gestational diabetes.
“But even after adjusting for BMI and age, gestational diabetes is still rising,” Kim said. “We have a lot to prove, but my personal worry is that light may be silently contributing to this problem without most people realizing the potential harm.”
Losing body weight and exercising also reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes, which is important but take some effort.
“Turning down the lights is an easy modification you can make,” Kim said.
“Now I’m the light police at home,” Kim said. “I see all this light I never thought about before. I try to dim the light as much as possible. Just for evening activities such as dinner and bathing the kids, you don’t need bright light.”
“This study highlights the importance of reducing light exposure in the hours before bedtime” said senior author Kathryn Reid, research professor of neurology at Feinberg.
The name of the paper is “The association between light exposure before bedtime in pregnancy and the risk of developing gestational diabetes mellitus.”
Other Northwestern authors are Dr. Phyllis Zee, Rosemary Braun, Blas Garcia-Canga, and Michael Wolf.
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