We are Made for the Darkness

Philly's Boathouse Row at sunset
Philly’s Boathouse Row at sunset

We are made for the darkness. You wouldn’t know from the way we light up the night. Bodies we need to spend several hours in deep darkness to be at our best.

The night is when our bodies rejuvenate and repair for the next day. Night is when our bodies make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. It regulates the sleep-wake cycle and our circadian rhythms. Scientists know it interacts with the immune system, but they are not sure how.


sunset Atlantic Ocean
The sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Birds in the Darkness

And big cities and small towns are turning out the lights at night during bird migration season. The tall buildings in downtown Philadelphia will go mostly dark from April 1 to May 31 during the peak time of northward migration. Lights Out Philly will start back up for the fall southward migration on August 15 through November 15.

The lights disorient the birds, and they smash into windows. I wonder how artificial light at night disorients us?

Philly's Center City Skyline at night
Philly’s Center City Skyline at night

As we move thorough Year 2 of the pandemic, what can help us to stay healthy is key. Wash our hands, wear a mask, social distance, and sleep. A good night sleep in total darkness will allow our bodies to make melatonin. Perhaps it can help us keep our immune system strong, as some scientific studies suggest.

Even the glow from a television set in a darkened room shuts down the production of melatonin. So does the glow from a computer or cell phone screen.

Our bodies are made to spend hours in the darkness. Not kinda dark or semi-dark, but darkness.

Searching for Owls at Night

twilight descends in Philly
Twilight descends in Philly

Seeing in the Dark 

My maternal grandparents would turn lights off in the house at night. There was a stillness and a calm to moving through the house in near darkness. It was a signal to “wind-down” the busyness of the daylight hours.

My brother and I would play a quiet, slowed down version of hide and seek. Hiding in corners and standing still.

And I could see in the dark. It was like having a superpower. We humans can see at night. We have low-light vision, but when do we get to use it? When do we strengthen that skill?

It’s funny, I wasn’t afraid of the dark at my grandparents’ house. Darkness was normal there. But I was afraid of the dark at my parents’ house. Perhaps it was because the TV and lights were on until late in the evening . The house wasn’t quiet and still like at my grandparents. At my grandparents’ house, darkness had a time and place.

nighttime in Philly
Nighttime in a Philly neighborhood.

The Stars at Night

My grandparents lived in rural farming communities before moving to the big city. They were used to “living off grid” without electric lights at night. And they could stand on the front porch at night and see the shooting stars, the constellations, and the planets that hung in the sky at night.

When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, I would sit on the front steps and find constellations in the sky. Kids would have a hard time doing that now. There is much more electric light at night now than back then. See the Circumpolar Stars at Night 

Eiffel Tower at Evening
Eiffel Tower at evening in Paris.

Where Are We and What Have We Done?

So, the children of today grow up without darkness. Without seeing the stars. Without flexing their low light vision.

I miss sitting in the dark listening to the hushed voices of my grandparents. I miss listening to my grandmother singing softly in the dark.

Darkness is not something to be banished but embraced. The dark of night has a restfulness that envelopes our whole being. Mother Earth has made, night for slowing down. For rejuvenation and strengthening our bodies and eyes. We are made for the darkness.

harvest moon
Harvest Moon. iStock Photo.

Further reading About Humans and the Dark 

Philly Skyline Will Go Mostly Dark (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Melatonin: What You Need to Know (National Institutes for Health)

Scientists Say Darkness Benefits Health (ABC News)

Spiraling Ostrich Ferns and the Road of Life

Disconnection from Earth: The Biggest Con


  1. Hi Donna, thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of nighttime at your grandparents’ home. I could see and feel the soft, peaceful evening settling in around you and your brother. I grew up in a city, but my mom always took us out to the porch on summer evenings before bedtime. There were so many fewer lights in the ‘60s and most of us didn’t have air conditioning, so we kept the lights off or low to keep it cooler. I still live in the city and it saddens me that we’ve lost so much darkness. On a good night we can see the planets, Orion, a few bright stars and, of course, the lovely moon; very different now. Anyway, thanks for your beautiful thoughts.

  2. Thank you for your beautifully written insights! We and the rest of the animal kingdom need darkness; the science suupports this,but your language brings it home. Have a lovely first day of spring!

  3. Love the insight into darkness and can easily picture the images you describe so beautifully. Thank you.

    • Good morning, Catherine. Thank you for your kind words. You’re welcome.

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