Sleep Disturbances in the Vicinity of the Short-Wave Broadcast Transmitter Schwarzenburg - The Schwarzenburg shut-down study

Authors: Abelin, Theodor; Altpeter, Ekkehardt; Röösli, Martin

Source: Somnologie, Volume 9, Number 4, November 2005, pp. 203-209(7)

Publisher: Blackwell Publishing


Summary Objectives 

The studies reported here investigated the association between health complaints and the vicinity to the short wave transmitter Schwarzenburg, and looked for evidence for a relationship between magnetic field exposure and sleep disturbances.

Subjects and Methods 

Between 1992 and 1998 two cross-sectional and two panel studies were performed in the area of Schwarzenburg. In each cross-sectional survey about 400 adults living in differently exposed areas were asked about somatic and psycho-vegetative symptoms including sleep disturbances as well as possible confounding factors. Exposure was estimated based on 2621 measurements of magnetic field strength made in 56 locations. In the panel studies, sleep quality and melatonin excretion was studied when the transmission was interrupted or definitively shut down, respectively.


In both surveys, prevalence of difficulties of falling asleep and in particular, maintaining sleep, increased with increasing radio frequency electromagnetic field exposure (RF-EMF). Sleep quality improved after interruption of exposure. A chronic change of melatonin excretion following RF-EMF exposure could not be shown, but a parallel study of salivary samples in cows showed a temporary increase after a short latency period following interruption of exposure.


The series of studies gives strong evidence of a causal relationship between operation of a short-wave radio transmitter and sleep disturbances in the surrounding population, but there is insufficient evidence to distinguish clearly between a biological and a psychological effect.

Keywords: radio frequency; sleep disturbance; insomnia; melatonin; psycho-vegetative symptoms; field study; epidemiology; Hochfrequenzstrahlung; Schlafstörung; Insomnie; Melatonin; Psycho-vegetative Beschwerden; Feldstudie; Epidemiologie

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-054X.2005.00072.x



Bioelectromagnetics. 2005 Dec 8; [Epub ahead of print]

Effect of short-wave (6-22 MHz) magnetic fields on sleep quality and melatonin cycle in humans: the Schwarzenburg shut-down study.

Altpeter ES, Roosli M, Battaglia M, Pfluger D, Minder CE, Abelin T.

Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Berne, Berne, Switzerland.

This paper describes the results of a unique "natural experiment" of the operation and cessation of a broadcast transmitter with its short-wave electromagnetic fields (6-22 MHz) on sleep quality and melatonin cycle in a general human population sample. In 1998, 54 volunteers (21 men, 33 women) were followed for 1 week each before and after shut-down of the short-wave radio transmitter at Schwarzenburg (Switzerland). Salivary melatonin was sampled five times a day and total daily excretion and acrophase were estimated using complex cosinor analysis. Sleep quality was recorded daily using a visual analogue scale. Before shut down, self-rated sleep quality was reduced by 3.9 units (95% CI: 1.7-6.0) per mA/m increase in magnetic field exposure. The corresponding decrease in melatonin excretion was 10% (95% CI: -32 to 20%). After shutdown, sleep quality improved by 1.7 units (95% CI: 0.1-3.4) per mA/m decrease in magnetic field exposure. Melatonin excretion increased by 15% (95% CI: -3 to 36%) compared to baseline values suggesting a rebound effect. Stratified analyses showed an exposure effect on melatonin excretion in poor sleepers (26% increase; 95% CI: 8-47%) but not in good sleepers. Change in sleep quality and melatonin excretion was related to the extent of magnetic field reduction after the transmitter's shut down in poor but not good sleepers. However, blinding of exposure was not possible in this observational study and this may have affected the outcome measurements in a direct or indirect (psychological) way. Bioelectromagnetics (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

PMID: 16342198 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]


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