Tag Archives: Health Conditions

A Sky Without Stars: Light Pollution & Human Health

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

The daylight hours stretch and yawn – extending themselves into the blue edges of the night. I awaken to stars and remind myself that soon they will change – my navigable position on this planet under a glittering sky. This intergenerational knowledge passed into my mind as a child is far older than anyone in my family can remember. My grandfather taught my father and they taught me. Should I ever be lost, wait for nightfall and gain orientation by listening to where the night sky tells you to go. This comfort of belonging and knowing my place in the world is the definition of solace. Cities and light pollution strip me of a knowledge so ingrained in my neurological system I can barely explain with verbal language how I know where to go. I become disoriented.

It took my first trip to the antipodes for me to understand this fully, and not for any reason related to light pollution. Instead, when I stared up into the sky, I failed to orient myself with any landmarks. Gasping for breath in the consuming sea of stars, to gain footing I required the Southern Cross. And even with this point established, it was no Polaris, not in the way I knew or expected. Over my time in New Zealand I gained orientation, at one point finding myself in a forest of glow worms with a full dark sky above. As I traveled elsewhere in the South Pacific, the Southern Cross failed as my anchor.

Having watched and photographed galaxy rises, my back against the earth as it hurdles through space, I ponder the impacts of light pollution on those with celestial navigation as a part of their blood, be it land or sea. Before city lights, for hundreds of thousands of years, humans evolved, watching the stars and orienting ourselves alongside their existences, giving their clusters names. We immortalized warriors, kings, ethical dilemmas, and the foundations of our beliefs in Super Novas, Neutron Stars, White Dwarfs and so many other identified and yet to be identified or understood dots of light filtering through our atmosphere from billions of light years away.

And now we can’t see them. Nor can our children. Nor could many of my peers during their formative years. But what impact is this having on our health?

In December, 2020, the Southern Economic Journal published the first ever study on the link between premature births and light pollution. This showed a 12.9% increased likelihood of preterm birth associated being able to only see 0.25 – 0.33 of stars visible under dark sky conditions. Skyglow, as measured by Walker’s Law (the sky-glow intensity from a light source is approximately proportional to the distance raised to the −2.5 power), has a direct impact of fetal health. Premature birth increases the risk of neonatal mortality. Premature birth of a child is closely associated with postpartum depression in mothers.

But this is not the first time researchers have raised concerns about the link between light pollution and impacts to human health. In 2011, the journal Medical Hypotheses published a review article on light pollution’s disruption of circadian rhythm potentially contributing to the rise in obesity. These impaired metabolic processes relate to circadian gene expression conserved through all mammalian species that regulate at least 10% of our genomes, including those of household pets. This article discusses the comparative obesity problems observed in domesticated animals (including horses!) living alongside humans under light pollution conditions. Going into more detail the health impacts of circadian disruption, the article mentions studies on shift work’s impacts on the release of hormones such as insulin independent of lifestyle choices by individuals. Shift work’s negative impacts on health, while linked to light pollution by exclusion of other causes, has additional epidemiological evidence to back it up. Let’s return to that question of gene expression and focus on the metabolic gene clock. Yes. That’s the actual name.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a review Lighting in the Home and Health this month (January 2021). Focusing on the impacts of types of lighting and its impacts on human health they concluded that though not enough studies exist at this time. Their review found suggests insufficient natural lighting increased risks for infectious diseases, injuries, and self-reported depression. While reviewing artificial lighting, they divided the data into multiple categories: fuel based lighting and electric lighting. While fuel based lighting was associated with adverse health from the toxic effects of the burning fuel (asthma, increased risk of respiratory infection, etc) and potential physical injuries, the lighting provided lower self-reported depression with even minimal usage. However, the toxic effects of the burning fuel varied greatly based on the fuel, whereas the increased infection risk remained constant among electric light users. Artificial lights were found to be associated with increased incidence of farsightedness in some children.

The strongest impacts from artificial lighting came from its use after dark, impacting sleep quality and subsequently health. The most notable health impacts from prolonged exposure to artificial light (regardless of lifestyle) at night included primarily metabolic disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia in elderly populations. This raises a concern: are these sensitive populations, indicating a more serious underlying issue the rest of society is experiencing?

In the 1950s the Circadian Resonance Hypothesis was proposed by Pittendrigh and Bruce and published in Nature. This stated that an organism’s overall fitness is proportional with the coupling of its internal circadian rhythms to its surrounding environment. While very few studies exist focusing on the impacts of artificial lights and light pollution on human health, many do exist focusing on the negative impacts on the ecosystem, biodiversity, and wildlife. Need I remind everyone reading this, humans do not exist in an isolated vacuum from the ecosystem and are in fact likely experiencing ill effects much like any other mammalian member, though our niches within that ecosystem may vary.

As I consider my future living in another city where light pollution drowns out the stars leading me home, I begin plotting my respite escapes for the sake of my own health. What more can I do until policies change and we find alternative solutions that let us turn down the lights?


Thanks for taking the time to read my writing! If you enjoyed this essay, please take a moment to like, share, and/or comment. It helps others find it and read the scientific articles I’ve linked.

Public School Pre-Vaccine Public Health Class Circa 1932 – Part 1: Good Citizenship

What did we do to prevent diseases and still carry on with daily life before vaccines existed? Vulnerable populations still existed. Public health measures still existed, even under President Herbert Hoover. So let’s take a gander into the archives of historical texts, starting with my grandmother’s health textbook.

It should be noted, as we are reading a historic text in its context, that my grandmother was a young white woman born in 1925 in Birmingham, Alabama to a doctor that made a point of treating people of all colors. That is not to say this did not occur without discrimination. As I was not alive and never met my great grandfather, I will never know the full story without speculation. My grandmother did explain to me that she attended an all white school. The name of the school her and her brother, William, attended was called “Edgewood” according to her distinctive cursive handwriting on the inside cover. I do not know if this is the same textbook that was used at other schools in the Birmingham area.

Controlling Disease

One distinct aspect of this textbook is the emphasis on good citizenship skills being a necessary requirement for preventing disease. But what is “good citizenship” and how does a health textbook from the 1930s define this?

Earlier in the text, good citizenship is defined as including everything from behavioral expectations and good hygiene to looking out for your fellow man in your daily activities. One prohibition era example of this being moderating consumption of anything that may dull or alter perception, such as alcohol containing medicines. There is an emphasis on “knowing thyself” and having awareness as being an important philosophical concept necessary for good health (see below).

Part of good citizenship seems to be a willingness to understand the concept of doing what is best for the common good, or what is best for maintaining the health and wellbeing of the population at large. This included some rather drastic measures, such as “sanitariums.” I will get to how tuberculosis sanitariums are described in the book in part 2 when we discuss the concept of the common good.

Good Citizenship

What did good citizenship mean? This is discussed throughout the textbook and I have attempted to summarize the concept here. It meant:

  • Not going out in public if you were sick, caring for a sick person at home, or were exposed to someone you later found out was sick until after the isolation period was over. In fact, make a special room in your house that can be converted to a “sick room” to isolate a person if they get sick – make sure it has plenty of windows you can open to keep the room “well-aired” with lots of daylight while it is shut off from the rest of the house.
  • Participating in volunteer groups, such as community service and church groups, that provide resources to keep others from feeling like they can not maintain the actions associated with good citizenship.
  • Keeping yourself clean and encouraging those around you to do the same through regular bathing, hand washing, and laundering of garments. This also included the wearing of aprons and work clothes that would be changed upon entering the home. By changing outfits regularly you kept the “germs” associated with the different parts of your life compartmentalized.
  • During certain times of the year, such as the winter, keep a wash basin by the front door with lye soap for guests and occupants of the home or building.
  • Wearing gloves to keep the hands clean while you are out and about and changing gloves between activities. These should be laundered regularly.
  • Using a handkerchief that is not to be shared for crying, coughing, sneezing, and all other expulsions of bodily fluids from the face. This should be laundered regularly with a disinfectant.
  • Eating healthy, home-cooked food from a clean kitchen, and bringing food of this kind to events. Practicing good hygiene in the kitchen is a must. (There is no mention of hand washing or gloves in the kitchen interestingly, but there is mention of washing vegetables, utensils, plates, and the management of food waste.)
  • Having home activities that keep your family fit and healthy, while bonded together. Suggested sports include examples such as tennis and chopping wood. (I’m not kidding about the chopping wood bit – that’s a sport for family bonding.)
  • Listening to the directions of your public health officials to prevent outbreaks. At the time only one vaccine was available (pertussis), but there were other prevention methods no longer used today.
Chart with information on incubation period and isolation requirements post exposure.

If you were exposed to someone with one of these diseases you had to isolate at home. If you didn’t do that, your parents were being bad citizens.

What is a bad citizen? That’s a more complicated subject and is where we start to delve into problematic areas with how this advice was given. In more modern terms that strip away the problematic content of the past, if you’re actively not helping to keep everyone around you safe and out of harm’s way, you’re a bad citizen.

It’s fascinating how times change. These methods were used to keep schools safe and in session before vaccines (not perfectly – outbreaks definitely still happened).

Anyways, I’ll revisit history again soon. Hope this was as informative for you as it was for me!


If you would like to see more posts like this one, please be sure to like, comment, and/or share this post. This helps me know which posts my readers like the most so I can try and cater my content. As always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to join me.

This post is dedicated to my friend Katrina, and other friends currently dealing with teaching full classrooms over Zoom. Be sure to thank a teacher today.

Medication Delays – A Poem

Content Warning: This poem addresses the current situations resulting from USPS delays on medication deliveries.

My spouse and I are okay; we stand in solidarity with those currently struggling and fighting to obtain their life sustaining medications.

We are a household that requires medication for daily survival. Without it at least one member of our household will not survive. While we are able to pick up our life-sustaining medications at a drive through pharmacy in town, many people do not have that option. This may be because they are in a rural area, or because their insurance only covers medications from a mail-order pharmacy, such as in the case of the VA. In the state of Montana, the United States Postal Service is the primary resource for delivering critical medications to rural communities that make up the majority of our state.

United States citizens are dying due to USPS delivery delays.

USPS is a critical service and is in serious trouble. There are too many sources available for me to cite them all here; that means you can find them yourself easily. I’m worried that this time, buying stamps is not enough.

Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash

Medication Delays

I spent the weekend cleaning
To keep our fears at bay
As tracking notifications continued
With each ping – a new delay
As ICUs are filling; filled
Don’t call 911–
Nowhere you can go
Homebound isolation burial
As medications fail to show
So many insurance companies
Require mail-order specialty
90 day supplies
[Won’t pay otherwise]
But ours only does 30 day
And the postman might not show:
How many people are going to die?
I don’t have tracking notifications–
No pings, nor badges
For human suffering.
I’ll focus on cleaning;
What I can control:
A clean and comfortable coffin
In which to hold each other
Before we go.


If this poem inspires you to get involved, what you can do is call your representatives and let them know the situation with USPS is critical.

A tool I like using is https://resist.bot/ – through a text based prompt it helps you generate a formal letter that is sent to all of your state representatives in Washington, DC. Here are their terms and privacy policy.