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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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)