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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The benficial powers of darkness (via)
For many of us, night has become day. We work, travel, shop, exercise and socialize in hours that used to be reserved for relaxation and sleep. Time is a limited resource and, to make full use of it, the night has been illuminated and occupied. Even when we do sleep, street lamps and security lights pierce the darkness.

But our freedom from the natural constraints of day and night may have come at a price. According to a growing band of scientists and doctors, many of us are no longer getting enough darkness in our lives. The theory is based on a simple premise. Our biological rhythms evolved in a time before artificial light, to take advantage of both bright days and dark nights. By succumbing to the temptations of 24-hour living, and ignoring or reducing our natural dark time, we could be putting our health at risk...

"Our biological clock has been likened to the conductor of an orchestra, with the multiple rhythms of the body representing the various sections of that orchestra," says Russell Foster, professor of molecular neuroscience at Imperial College, London, which later this month hosts the first international sleep conference. "The body clock adapts us for the varying demands of activity and rest. It ensures our internal synchronicity: that our various internal systems -- temperature, alertness, blood pressure and so on -- are working together. And the body clock sets itself using the light/dark cycle. By moving to 24-hour living, and reducing or ignoring the dark bit, we are effectively throwing away the advantages of millions of years of evolution."...

Humans have known for a long time that banishing the dark from our lives has a powerful effect. "Don't forget," reminds Dijk, "continuous light has long been used as a method of torture."

I once had a summer job where I worked overnight in a grocery store. I spent three and a half months sleeping during the day and working all night underneath blazing flourescent lighting. The only time I experienced anything resembling darkness was during my drive to work. It's the only period in my life from which I cannot recall any specific memories--that entire summer is represented in my mind by a haze of generalized impressions and a vague, disoriented sense of the passage of time.


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