Are LED street lights making drivers sleepy and fat? The AMA thinks they might

June 20, 2016

If you've been to a hardware store lately, you know that the big thing in lighting is no longer compact fluorescents, but LEDs. America's cities have noticed, too, and they're in the process of converting millions of streetlights to the technology.

Given the benefits of LEDs, that might seem like a good thing. After all, LEDs last even longer than CFLs, and they use less energy, too.

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But the American Medical Association is less excited about the transition. They think that the lights might be interfering with our sleep cycles, making us fatigued, frustrated, and fat.

During its annual meeting last week, the AMA drafted a document that sets some recommendations for communities as they change over to the new technology. As board bember Maya A. Babu, M.D., M.B.A., explains, "Despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting. The new AMA guidance encourages proper attention to optimal design and engineering features when converting to LED lighting that minimize detrimental health and environmental effects".

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What are those effects? That depends on the type of LEDs that a community uses. The worst effects are associated with fixtures that emit large amounts of blue light, which can cause:

  • Increased nighttime glare
  • Suppression of melatonin, which affects the human sleep cycle
  • Disruption of native birds, insects, turtles, and fish

Worse, the effect of LEDs on drivers and passengers lingers even after we've locked our cars and headed indoors--especially if we've got LEDs in our houses. According to the AMA, "Recent large surveys found that brighter residential nighttime lighting is associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity".

Today, roughly 10 percent of U.S. street lights have been switched to LED technology. For the remaining 90 percent, the AMA suggests that communities choose LEDs with the lowest possible emission of blue light to reduce glare and minimize the effect on melatonin levels. 

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