Lighting Up the Nighttime

Lighting Up the Nighttime

Artificial light at night needs to be reduced to limit negative environmental impacts.

Science, 2018

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Humanity’s growing use of light at night brings both threat and opportunity, says biologist Kevin Gaston. Indiscriminate use of light at night can disrupt human sleep cycles, animal migration and breeding. It can also cause alterations in plant growth cycles that lead to cascading disruptions to ecosystems. But much of the potential harm can be allayed by strategically using lighting in a way that meets people’s needs while minimizing harm. This article will engage architects, engineers, planners and anyone involved in decisions about installing and managing artificial lighting.


Artificial light from streetlamps, buildings and other structures can harm people, plants, animals and ecosystems.

As civilization spreads, so does the use of artificial light. Streetlamps, buildings, vehicles, sports stadiums and more produce direct illumination. Light bouncing off particles in the air creates a secondary effect known as “skyglow.”

Unnatural light can harm animals by altering hormones and behavior. It can harm plants by affecting the time leaves come out in spring. Skyglow can alter the migration of birds that use the stars...

About the Author

Kevin J. Gaston is a professor of biodiversity and conservation with the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, UK.

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