Why We Need Darkness

Since moving to Northern Europe, I’ve been obsessed with trying to maximize my exposure to light, especially during the winter. Oddly enough, I’ve since been experimenting trying to spend more time in the dark.

This all got started listening to Paul Bogard talk about his book The End of Night. His premise is that we have very little exposure to true darkness anymore, and we’re losing something with more than sentimental value.

Experimenting with Less Light

For over a year now, I’ve been experimenting with not always having the lights on in the evening. I use nightshift on my computer and phone plus use darker themes anyway. In the winter if I really need some light towards the late evening, candles usually do the trick. There’s a certain warm glow that just plain nice from orangish light anyway. I’m not neurotic about any of this — I’ll turn on the light if need it, but try to keep it to a minimum after I get home from work.

The Effects of Less Light

The results have been noticeable: I’m more tired at bedtime and either my night vision has improved or I’m better at using other senses to compensate for not seeing as well. I’m more in tune with seasonal cycles, meaning that I’m ok with six hours of sleep during short summer nights, yet naturally gravitate closer to nine during the long dark nights of winter.

Another surprise is that my body is also shifting to biphasic sleep on its own accord. If I had my druthers, I’d sleep from nine to one and then from three to seven. This, obviously, makes a normal social life all but impossible. My compromise is nine hours in bed with a one hour break during the middle of the night.

I’m not for turning back the clock and pretending to live in a pre-modern society. Still, with a few hacks we can trick our bodies into being a lot closer to that state, which is likely where they function best.