If God or angels or extraterrestrials were monitoring us from above, the most profound change they would have witnessed on this planet since its creation is the pernicious illumination of our nights. Thousands of satellite images of the Earth taken over recent decades attest to the fact that the planet is growing dramatically brighter year by year.So much of our use of light at night (LAN) is gratuitous. The International Dark Sky Association, an interdisciplinary organization concerned with global light pollution, offers compelling evidence that we are seriously overexposed to LAN, which is an unnecessary energy and economic burden, detrimental to wildlife, and a factor in global warming. A number of studies have linked excessive LAN to an increased risk for cancer. I believe that overexposure to light at night is the most critical overlooked environmental factor in our sleeplessness.Readily witnessed in cities and our homes, excessive LAN may be the most obvious symptom of global warming. And also of personal warming. If global warming is the result of our collective mismanagement of energy, personal warming is its expression in our individual lives.Our personal relationship with light is much like our relationship with food. Most of us are overfed but simultaneously undernourished. Likewise, we are overexposed to light, getting about one-third more exposure per day than our pre-industrial ancestors did. And most of this exposure is to poor quality artificial and poorly timed light what one of my patients called junk light. I believe that like junk food, junk light is an important factor in chronic inflammation our personal warming. Major sleep disorders are, in fact, associated with our personal inability to cool adequately at night.
Night is the best sleep medicine. When exposed to dim light or darkness, our pineal gland begins to convert serotonin into melatonin, that mysterious sleep supportive neurohormone. Darkness also encourages us to draw our attention from the buzzing illuminated world of waking to the mysterious, restful and quieting world of sleep.
In nature, dusk would offer us a gradual bridge to sleep. It insists that we rest. The vast majority of us, however, indulge in artificial daylight until we turn off the last lamp on our bed stand. To promote better sleep, I routinely recommend "dusk simulation"- significantly dimming the lights around one's home for about one hour prior to bedtime. (In Healing Nights, I offer a detailed description of dusk simulation.) A nightly dusk simulation would have a profoundly positive effect on both global and personal warming. It would support both the planet and its people in obtaining the nightly rest they so deserve.
About the Author
ThirdAge Expert, Rubin R. Naiman, Ph.D., is a psychologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona's Health Sciences Center, and a sleep and dream medicine specialist for Dr. Andrew Weil's world renowned Program in Integrative Medicine. He is also the author of Healing Nights and The Sleep Advisor, a unique expert software system that evaluates and provides recommendations for addressing sleep disorders.