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Sci Rep. 2015 Sep 4;5:13557. doi: 10.1038/srep13557.

Light pollution disrupts sleep in free-living animals.

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Department of Biology, Ethology group, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium.
Faculty of Social Sciences, Didactica research group, University of Antwerp, Prinsstraat 13, B-2000, Antwerp, Belgium.


Artificial lighting can alter individual behaviour, with often drastic and potentially negative effects on biological rhythms, daily activity and reproduction. Whether this is caused by a disruption of sleep, an important widespread behaviour enabling animals to recover from daily stress, is unclear. We tested the hypothesis that light pollution disrupts sleep by recording individual sleep behaviour of great tits, Parus major, that were roosting in dark nest-boxes and were exposed to light-emitting diode light the following night. Their behaviour was compared to that of control birds sleeping in dark nest-boxes on both nights. Artificial lighting caused experimental birds to wake up earlier, sleep less (-5%) and spent less time in the nest-box as they left their nest-box earlier in the morning. Experimental birds did not enter the nest-box or fall asleep later than controls. Although individuals in lit nest-boxes did not wake up more often nor decreased the length of their sleep bouts, females spent a greater proportion of the night awake. Our study provides the first direct proof that light pollution has a significant impact on sleep in free-living animals, in particular in the morning, and highlights a mechanism for potential effects of light pollution on fitness.

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