When I visit my mother 80 miles north of New York City, I am always struck by the night sky. As my kids and I peer up at the stars, we are reminded that we don’t see stars in NYC due to all the lights in the city at night. Sadly, in most of the world’s large urban centers, stargazing is something that only happens at the planetarium.
I recently saw The City Dark, a documentary about light pollution and the disappearing night sky that poses the question, “What do we lose when we lose the night?” Among other things, the film explores the health effects associated with night light pollution.
In the dark, our bodies produce the hormone melatonin, which fights various diseases like cancers. According to Harvard Medical School Professor Steven Lockley’s handbook Blinded by the Light?, “Light intrusion, even if dim, is likely to have measurable effects on sleep disruption and melatonin suppression.” There have been several studies done that suggest nighttime shift workers have a greater incidence of breast cancer than those who work during the day. The studies also suggest a connection with increased headaches, anxiety and high blood pressure for nighttime workers. And light pollution is not just affecting humans. From birds to sea turtles to salamanders, scientists have studied how night light is altering breeding patterns, foraging areas, and behaviors in animals.
Having suffered from insomnia periodically, I am always game to try new things to help get a good night sleep. Since I saw The City Dark, I have been carefully closing the curtains every night in my apartment. Perhaps it is just a coincidence (the jury is still out on the true health benefits from avoiding light pollution) but I have been sleeping very well for the last few weeks.
So if you are doing it to save energy or if you believe there might be something to this concept of light pollution, turn off the lights, draw your blinds, and start producing some melatonin.