Is WiFi messing with your body clock?

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  Last updated September 23, 2019 at 11:41 am


A Czech study claims that electromagnetic fields – like those used for WiFi – interfere with cockroaches’ body clocks. Other experts are skeptical.


Could WiFi and you TV be interrupting your body clock? Experts are skeptical. Credit: Kittichai Boonpong / EyeEm

Why This Matters: With most of us using these technologies daily, it’s important to get the facts right.

A Czech study published this week has claimed exposing German cockroaches to electromagnetic fields, such as those used for WiFi, TV and radio, messed up the insects’ natural rhythms.

The researchers says the roaches’ internal clocks slowed down after they were exposed to weak magnetic and radiofrequency fields, and went on to suggest that WiFi, TV and radio signals could be affecting the natural rhythms, and therefore the navigation systems and behaviour, of a wide range of different animals.

So, with WiFi widespread and radio and TV signals all around us, should be worried about effects on the animal kingdom, or even on our own body clocks?

Other experts are a bit more skeptical.

The claims may not be applicable to humans

Ken Karipidis from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency told the AuSMC he believes there’s no need to fret about the researchers’ claims, and suggested they may have exaggerated the significance of their results, “especially related to their applicability to human health.”

“Most of the reported effects occurred at lower frequencies with no relevance to the higher frequencies employed by mobile telecommunications,” he says.

Also: No red flats yet for 5G health risks

Other experts are also remaining unconvinced, calling the quality of research into question.

John O’Neill from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology told the UK Science Media Centre that he’s surprised “this paper made it through peer review”.

“Looking at their analysis results…magnetic fields appear to essentially have no effect.”

“The effect size is small and the data very noisy because…up to 50 per cent of cockroaches were excluded from analysis due to not showing any circadian rhythms in the first place. The quality of the cockroach circadian rhythms is not something the reader can assess for themselves however, as no examples of cockroach circadian rhythms under the various experimental conditions are shown,” he adds.

Previous studies have shown WiFi has no affect

Richard Findlay from the UK’s Society for Radiological Protection was equally damning: “Firstly, they are barely into the radiofrequency spectrum (they researched up to 10 MHz).

“Also, their claim is contrary to a number of previous studies that have shown no significant effects of fields on circadian rhythms…In short, it’s not great research,” he says.

We’ll leave the final word on the research to O’Neill:

“German cockroaches can feel quite relaxed that there is no compelling evidence that magnetic fields affect their circadian rhythms. Humans should be even less worried about magnetic fields affecting their circadian rhythms,” he says.

You can read the AusSMC Expert Reaction here.

You can read the UK SMC Expert Reaction here.

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About the Author

Joseph Milton
Joe Milton is an evolutionary biologist who, after studying the evolution of plants for ten years at various Scottish universities, made a move into journalism. Since then he has written for the Financial Times, Nature and New Scientist, among others. Joe joined the London Science Media Centre in 2010, where he was Senior Press Officer for Mental Health, before taking up the position of Senior Media Officer at the Australian Science Media Centre in July 2012.

Published By

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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