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Dimming Lights at Bedtime Lowers Gestational Diabetes Risk, Study Says

Dimming your lights and screens could lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes by 60 percent. Learn about the latest findings here.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Updated March 30, 2023
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Image: Zhuravlev Andrey | Shutterstock

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but it can also be full of unexpected twists and turns. For a growing number of women, that unexpected twist can be the development of gestational diabetes. In an estimated 7.8 percent of all births in the US, the mother is diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This condition can lead to serious health problems for both the mother and the baby, including an increased risk of diabetes type 2 for Mom and preterm birth. But what if something as simple as dimming the lights before bedtime could help reduce your risk of gestational diabetes? A recent study by researchers from Northwestern University suggests that it just might.

The study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Maternal Fetal Medicine analyzed data from 741 women in their second trimester. The participants’ light exposure was measured by an actigraph worn on their wrists. After controlling for factors like age and BMI, the researchers found that not only did women who were exposed to higher levels of light at night have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, but women who dimmed the lights and screens in their bedroom before bedtime had a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes.

In fact, women who dimmed the lights to the lowest levels had a 60 percent lower risk of developing gestational diabetes compared to those who kept the lights on at full brightness.

So, why does dimming the lights before bedtime help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes? According to the researchers, pre-sleep light exposure may affect glucose metabolism through sympathetic overactivity, meaning the heart rate goes up before bed when it should go down. “It seems there is inappropriate activation of the fight or flight response when it is time to rest,” lead study author Minjee Kim, MD, said in a news release.

Data shows the sympathetic overactivity may lead to cardiometabolic disease, which is a cluster of conditions including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, increased blood pressure and an imbalance of lipids, all leading to cardiovascular disease.

“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.

If you’re pregnant and concerned about your risk of gestational diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about strategies to promote healthy habits. This may include establishing good sleep hygiene, changing up your diet and more.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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