The Importance of Darkness

Although we live in the 21st century with modern technology permeating every aspect of our lives, our bodies and brain structure haven’t changed significantly in hundreds of thousands of years.

While we have adapted to our modern tech-lifestyle intellectually, our biology has not. For 99.9% of the existence of humanity, our light has come from the sun, sunlight reflected off the surface of the moon, stars and fire. Our bodies have evolved based on a regular light cycle. This means light causes our body to produce certain regulatory hormones and darkness does the same.

Melatonin is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan. It’s integral in managing our sleep and awake cycles. It’s produced primarily in the brain’s pineal gland and circulated throughout the body. The production of melatonin is triggered by the presence of light on the retina. Our bodies have evolved to function specifically in the natural light cycle on our planet.

Street lights, televisions, phones, computer screens, etc. now bathe our eyes with light far beyond sunset, which disrupts the natural production schedule of melatonin. Not only this, but the light triggers our bodies to produce cortisol (which is normally lower at night). These hormone imbalances prevent us from having adequate sleep, and can lead to other issues such as inflammation, body-fat retention, insulin resistance and appetite disruption.

Room light during normal sleep hours can disrupt melatonin by as much as 50%. Also TVs, phones and computer screens further exacerbate that by emitting blue light. Melanopsin, a photopigment in our retinas, is especially sensitive to blue light, so that spectrum is particularly disruptive to our hormone production.

This biohack is about eliminating as much light after sunset as possible.

  1. Keep room lights off at night.
  2. Close window shades to block as much artificial light pollution from the outside as possible.
  3. Use blue light filters on your phones and tablets (f.lux is a great solution for most platforms. Also some phones have a blue light filter option available at the OS level).
  4. Turn off the TV after sunset. Alternative forms of entertainment are: listening to music, radio or podcasts. I especially like to listen to old-time serial radio shows at night. It can be a fun social activity as well.
  5. Read a book by a soft, warm light, similar to candle light.
  6. If you can use smart lighting such as Hue lights, you can lower the light level and use red spectrum lighting at night that would be similar to firelight in intensity.
  7. Invest in an inexpensive and comfortable sleep mask to completely block out all light during your sleep.

This can help you get a more restful sleep. It can help keep your immune system strong. Light disruption has also been linked as a contributing agent to some types of depression as well as with cardiovascular disease.

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