The influence of bright and dim light on substrate metabolism, energy expenditure and thermoregulation in insulin-resistant individuals depends on time of day

J.F. Harmsen, J. Wefers, D. Doligkeit, L. Schlangen, B. Dautzenberg, P. Rense, D. van Moorsel, J. Hoeks, E. Moonen-Kornips, M.C.M. Gordijn, W.D.V. Lichtenbelt, P. Schrauwen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Aims/hypothesis In our modern society, artificial light is available around the clock and most people expose themselves to electrical light and light-emissive screens during the dark period of the natural light/dark cycle. Such suboptimal lighting conditions have been associated with adverse metabolic effects, and redesigning indoor lighting conditions to mimic the natural light/dark cycle more closely holds promise to improve metabolic health. Our objective was to compare metabolic responses to lighting conditions that resemble the natural light/dark cycle in contrast to suboptimal lighting in individuals at risk of developing metabolic diseases.Methods Therefore, we here performed a non-blinded, randomised, controlled, crossover trial in which overweight insulin-resistant volunteers (n = 14) were exposed to two 40 h laboratory sessions with diffeient 24 h lighting protocols while staying in a metabolic chamber under real-life conditions. In the Bright day-Dim evening condition, volunteers were exposed to electric bright light (similar to 1250 lx) during the daytime (08:00-18:00 h) and to dim light (similar to 5 lx) during the evening (18:00-23:00 h). Vice versa, in the Dim day-Bright evening condition, volunteers were exposed to dim light during the daytime and bright light during the evening. Randomisation and allocation to light conditions were carried out by sequential numbering. During both lighting protocols, we performed 24 h indirect calorimetry, and continuous core body and skin temperature measurements, and took frequent blood samples. The primary outcome was plasma glucose focusing on the pre- and postprandial periods of the intervention.Results Spending the day in bright light resulted in a greater increase in postprandial triacylglycerol levels following breakfast, but lower glucose levels preceding the dinner meal at 18:00 h, compared with dim light (5.0 +/- 0.2 vs 5.2 +/- 0.2 mmol/l, n = 13,p=0.02). Dim day-Bright evening reduced the increase in postprandial glucose after dinner compared with Bright day-Dim evening (incremental AUC: 307 +/- 55 vs 394 +/- 66 mmol/l x min, n = 13, p=0.009). After the Bright day-Dim evening condition the sleeping metabolic rate was identical compared with the baseline night, whereas it dropped after Dim day-Bright evening. Melatonin secretion in the evening was strongly suppressed for Dim day-Bright evening but not for Bright day-Dim evening. Distal skin temperature for Bright day-Dim evening was lower at 18:00 h (28.8 +/- 0.3 degrees C vs 29.9 + 0.4 degrees C, n = 13, p=0.039) and higher at 23:00 h compared with Dim day-Bright evening (30.1 +/- 0.3 degrees C vs 28.8 + 0.3 degrees C, n = 13, p=0.006). Fasting and postprandial plasma insulin levels and the respiratory exchange ratio were not different between the two lighting protocols at any time.Conclusions/interpretation Together, these findings suggest that the indoor light environment modulates postprandial substrate handling, energy expenditure and thermoregulation of insulin-resistant volunteers in a time-of-day-dependent manner.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-732
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Early online date2 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Biological clock
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Insulin resistance
  • Light at night
  • Light exposure
  • Melatonin
  • Postprandial metabolism
  • Sleeping metabolic rate


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