I just love this cartoon by Mark Tatuli and it turns out that there are some really good reasons to sleep in the dark.
We know that humans are meant to go to sleep when it’s dark – we’re not nocturnal like owls or foxes and that’s pretty much proven by the fact that we can’t see very well in the dark. And we don’t have bat-like hearing! The problem is that our technology makes us want to stay awake. We want to do more all the time and the fact that we have lights and television and Internet gives us little reason to go to bed. The ‘blue light’ from these devices is thought to mess up our natural body rhythm so we find it harder to fall asleep and don’t sleep as well when we do.
BUT … it turns out that there are other complications from not sleeping in the dark. When it’s dark our body increases its production of a hormone called melatonin.
Melatonin is pretty impressive – it regulates our sleep patterns and helps us fall asleep by increasing in production during the time we need to rest. If we are in too much light then it doesn’t become stimulated enough and so we won’t sleep as well. I guess that explains why it’s useful to sleep with the light on if you just want a short nap.
Scientists have found that melatonin levels are also important for other areas of our health. At the University of Granada they found that melatonin may stimulate a type of cell that helps to burn fat as energy rather than storing it. More importantly, scientists at Cancer Research have found that melatonin levels can reduce the growth and production of breast tumours. They say that women who work through night shifts (so have to sleep in the light) are more likely to get breast cancer than the rest of the population. The other interesting thing is that it may explain why people with visual impairment are less likely to get cancer than those without any sight problems – less light absorption means more melatonin and so less cancer. I wonder if they are less likely to be overweight and if they sleep better too? Maybe that’s something for another blog!
So, if you want to get a good night’s sleep, the advice is to reduce your use of screen devices about 2 hours before bed and to get some blackout curtains, or maybe on of those trendy sleep masks you get on aeroplanes. Just make sure you can see where you’re going if you need to go to the bathroom in the night – I’m not taking any responsibility for stubbed toes and bumped heads!