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Health – Sleep behaviour

Sleep is a complex biological process controlled by the central nervous system. It serves humans in the maintenance of the physical and mental performance, and can be roughly divided into three phases:

  • Light sleep
  • Deep sleep
  • REM sleep (dream sleep)

These phases are characterised by different activities in the brain. The sleep architecture, sleep quality and sleep regulation can be recorded, supervised and evaluated by recording the brain waves with an electroencephalogram (Electroenzephalogram (EEG)). Sleep disorders have increased markedly over the last decades. They can come about due to a wide range of causes such as stress, malnutrition or noise. In many cases they are also attributed to EMFs, in particular from mobile telecommunication infrastructures.

The influence of electromagnetic fields

The influence of EMFs on sleep is studied either in a laboratory investigation, in which an electroencephalogram (Electroenzephalogram (EEG)) is evaluated or with questionnaires as to the occurrence of sleep disorders, for example in connection with environmental influences such as noise.

Until now research has shown that EMFs from mobile telephones and base stations do not impair the sleep architecture (sequence and length of the periods of sleep), the subjectively perceived quality of sleep or health. Many of the studies show that EMFs from mobile telephones with pulsed radiation have an effect on the sleep electroencephalogram (sleep-Electroenzephalogram (EEG)). The effect is also demonstrable when the field has already been switched off, and it lies within normal physiological variability. No impact on health could be found. Also ELF magnetic fields can impact the sleep-Electroenzephalogram (EEG). No effects on sleep quality or on other health symptoms could be related to this impact.

Indisputably there are persons who sleep badly in the vicinity of transmitters or in-house radio equipment (DECT telephones, WLAN, etc.). It seems however that the causes of this sensitivity are not the electromagnetic fields but that psychological factors play a role (see the remarks to nervous disorders).

The investigations into sleep quality in the area of the Schwarzenburg short wave transmitter (Switzerland) show that psychological effects are important. Although a connection between field strength and the frequency of sleep disorders has been observed, no direct causal connection could be proven.

Conclusions

There are many indications that electromagnetic fields from mobile telecommunications influence brain activity during sleep. This does not affect the quality of sleep. Overall the results show that high frequency EMFs have no health-relevant influence on sleep. The knowledge of the presence of a transmitter can promote psychological concerns or fears that do influence the sleep quality.

ELF magnetic fields, however, seem to impact sleep. The impact is best seen in sleep-EEGs. It remains unclear whether the observed Electroenzephalogram (EEG)-effects are of relevance for human health. Concerning subjective sleep quality, the results are inconsistent and no firm conclusions can be made at present. 

Selected literature (overviews)

Literature List 2019 on RF Exposure and Sleep

Altpeter, E.S., Röösli, M., Battagli, M., Pfluge, D., Minder, C.E., Abelin, T. (2006): Effect of short-wave (6-22 MHz) magnetic fields on sleep quality and melatonin cycle in humans: the Schwarzenburg shut-down study. Bioelectromagnetics, 27, 2, 142-150. 

Bundesamt für Umwelt (BAFU) (2007). Hochfrequente Strahlung und Gesundheit. Bewertung von wissenschaftlichen Studien im Niedrigdosisbereich. Bern: BAFU.

Danker-Hopfe, H., Dorn, H. (2005). Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields at Mobile Phone Frequencies on Sleep: Current State of Knowledge from Laboratory Studies. Somnologie (Somnology), 9, 4, 192-198.

Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) (2012). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.  U.K. Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire. Chapter 5.1.2, 208-216.

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection ICNIRP (2009). Exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields, bilogical effects and health consequences (100 kHz-300 GHz). Chapter II.5.1, 223-257.

SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) (2015). Opinion on Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF). Brussels: European Commission. Sections 3.6.2.2.

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (2011). Nichtionisierende Strahlung - Umwelt und Gesundheit. Programmsynthese. Nationales Forschungsprogramm NFP 57. Bern: SNF.

Van Rongen E, Croft R, Juutilainen J, Lagroye I, Miyakoshi J, Saunders R, de Seze R, Tenforde T, Verschaeve L, Veyret B, Xu Z (2009). Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields on the human nervous system. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews, 12, 8, 572-597.

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