According to a recent Northwestern Medicine study, pregnant women should dim their home lights or at least dim their screens (computer monitors and smartphones) a few hours before bed to reduce their risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.
In a multi-site trial, women who had acquired gestational diabetes mellitus were exposed to up to three hours of light before bedtime. Compared to people who didn’t receive it, there was no difference in their levels of exercise, sleep, or daily light exposure.
“Our study suggests that exposure to light before bedtime may be an underrecognized but easily modifiable risk factor for gestational diabetes,” said lead study author Dr. Minji Kim, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist.
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Increasing evidence suggests that exposure to light before bedtime may be associated with impaired glucose regulation in nonpregnant adults. However, little is known about the effect of exposure to evening light during pregnancy on the risk of 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 bedtime on the risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is on the rise in the US and worldwide. Between 2011 and 2013, 4.5 percent of first-time pregnant women had gestational diabetes, an average increase of 3.4 percent per three-year period until 2019. The rate of gestational diabetes in 2020 was 7.8. Percentage of all births in the US
“It’s alarming,” Kim added, “gestational diabetes is known to increase obstetric complications and the mother’s risk of diabetes, heart disease and dementia. The offspring are also more likely to develop obesity and high blood pressure as they grow.”
Data show that women with gestational diabetes are about 10 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those without gestational glucose problems, Kim said.
Bright light exposure before bed can come from bright lights in your home and devices such as TVs, computers, and smartphones.
“We don’t think about the potential harm of lighting the environment from the moment we wake up until we go to bed,” Kim said, adding, “But it should be very dim for a few hours before we go to sleep. We probably don’t need that much light for what we do regularly in the evening.”
Scientists don’t know which source of bright light causes the problem, but it could all add up, Kim said.
“Try to minimize the amount of light in your environment in those three hours before bed,” Kim said. Kim said, suggesting people use the night light option and turn off blue light.
If pregnant women have gestational diabetes in their first pregnancy, they are more likely to have it in their next pregnancy.
Pre-sleep light exposure can affect glucose metabolism through sympathetic overactivity, meaning the heart rate goes up before bed when it should go down. “It seems that there is an inappropriate activation of the fight or flight response when it is time to rest,” Kim said.
Data show that sympathetic overactivity can lead to cardiometabolic disease, a group of conditions such as abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, increased blood pressure and lipid imbalances, all leading to heart disease.
Between 2011 and 2013, the second trimester of 741 women was performed at eight clinical US sites. Participants’ light exposure was measured by an actigraph worn on their wrist. Women were measured in the second trimester of pregnancy, when they receive routine screening for gestational diabetes.
Age, BMI, race/ethnicity, education, occupational insurance, employment schedule, season, sleep duration, sleep midpoint, sleep regularity index, and daylight exposure, pre-sleep light exposure have been associated with gestational diabetes.
The increased rate of gestational diabetes has been attributed in part to the increasing body mass index and age of pregnant women.
“But even after adjusting for BMI and age, gestational diabetes is still on the rise,” Kim said, “We have a lot to prove, but my personal concern is that Prakash may be silently contributing to the problem without most people realizing the potential harm.” “
Losing weight and exercising also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, which is important but takes some effort.
“Dimming the lights is one of the easiest modifications you can make,” Kim said.
“Now I’m the light cop at home,” Kim said. “I see all this light in a way I never thought I would before. I try to dim the light as much as possible. For activities like 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 Catherine Reed, a research professor of neurology at Feinberg.
The name of the paper is “Relationship between light exposure before bedtime in pregnancy and the risk of developing diabetes mellitus in pregnancy.”
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