According to the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization that combats light pollution worldwide, "the increased and widespread use of artificial light at night is not only impairing our view of the universe, it is adversely affecting our environment, our safety, our energy consumption and our health".
Experts say that's a problem because nighttime lights are known to disrupt our body clocks and raise the risks of cancer, diabetes and depression.
The study was based on the first-ever radiometer designed especially for nightlights, called the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).
Researchers only analyzed nighttime lights during the months of October, to avoid any increase from holiday lights.
Overall, some 79 nations - mainly in South America, Asia and Africa - experienced a growth in nighttime brightness during those years.
Declines in lighting were rare, but were noticeable in war-torn places like Syria and Yemen.
The researchers said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite data may understate the situation because its sensor can not detect some of the LED lighting that is becoming more widespread, specifically blue light.
But many rich nations stayed just as bright, with city areas in the US, UK, and Europe becoming even brighter.
One co-author of the study, Franz Holker, an ecologist at the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, said the data reveal "quite a critical problem". Images taken by the weather satellite Suomi NPP provided specialists with a close-up look at illuminated communities around the world, which literally shed light on the ongoing issue of light pollution.
For most of humanity's history, the night has meant darkness. "We hope that the results further sound the alarm about the many unintended consequences of the unchecked use of artificial light at night".
The latest findings are "not a big surprise to people who have been following this issue", said Travis Longcore, an assistant professor of architecture, spatial sciences, and biological sciences at the University of Southern California School of Architecture. "Continuously lit areas brightened at a rate of 2.2 percent per year", according to the study.
"In addition to threatening 30 percent of vertebrates that are nocturnal and over 60 percent of invertebrates that are nocturnal, artificial light also affects plants and microorganisms", Hölker said.
Lighting is undoubtedly a good thing and a remarkable achievement for people in some far corners of the world, but scientists fear the decreased costs of electricity and the use of energy-efficient technology could lead to an increasingly lit world.
He said using LEDs that don't have a blue component is a better choice for people to consider, and there are also ways to position and manage existing light sources, like lamps in parking lots, so they are not as bright, but still remain effective.
"There is no conclusive evidence that additional light reduces crime", Longcore told AFP.
The data also showed a marked discrepancy in the increase in light pollution among different regions of the world.