Is the dark good for you?
Waking up from a good night’s sleep usually means a great day ahead, where you’re ready to tackle whatever is thrown at you. But as well as feeling well rested, getting enough sleep can also prevent the development of some diseases such as cancer.
Health experts have now advised people to fit blackout blinds in their bedrooms and to ban electronic gadgets when getting ready to sleep. Both of these will prevent damaging interruptions to our body clock, which has previously been linked to health problems such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and depression.
People’s body clocks respond to the daily pattern of sunlight, which governs our internal hormone production, metabolism, genes and even body temperature. Disruption to our internal pattern has previously been linked to the production of melatonin being suppressed. Melatonin is the hormone that helps keep breast tumours in check. Studies have even shown that female night-shift workers have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
“The point to emphasise is that while sleep is deeply important to wellbeing, so too is exposure at night to dark,” commented breast cancer researcher Dr Richard Stevens from the University of Connecticut.
“The importance of sleep has finally entered mainstream thinking and practice; however the importance of dark is still greatly under-appreciated.”
Dr Stevens adds that we need to “appreciate” the gloom and suggests dimming household lights in the evenings to help the body get ready for sleep mode.
His advice has been published in journal Philosophical Transactions B, and he also places great emphasis on shunning blue-light gadgets as bed time nears. The artificial light emitted from phones, tablets and laptops is known to keep the mind alert, so it’s best to leave reading emails and searching the web before bed.
Dr Stevens further warns of the danger to children and babies in the womb when it comes to artificial light.
“Excessive lighting of the night sky is as important an issue as climate change,” he said.