We Crave Dark Nights
by Diane Wilson

On Cancer, Turtles and Your Very Own Bedroom

Who doesn’t love the excitement and color of city lights at night? But recent research shows we need true darkness for our own health and for the animals who live among us.

On Earth Day, my husband and I watched the film (recommended by Lisa) called “The City Dark.” It was an award-winning documentary shown at the Adler Planetarium from the One Earth Film Festival. In the film, Director Ian Cheney bemoans the fact that constellations are no longer visible in large cities due to light pollution at night. We lose something fundamental spiritually when we no longer see ourselves in relationship to the grandeur of the cosmos, according to experts.

Increased Risk of Cancer

In “The City Dark”, Cheney assembles scientists from numerous fields to weave together the premise that night darkness is important to our physical health.  Recent studies show that exposure to light at night can actually increase tumor growth. Melatonin production is suppressed and normal circadian rhythms are interrupted. There is a link between low levels of melatonin and cancer, specifically breast, ovarian, and prostate. For example, breast cancer was found associated with women doing shift work.

Disoriented Turtles and Birds

Cheney shows an adorable endangered species: sea turtle hatchlings in Florida. They have a limited amount of time to find the ocean after emerging from their eggs in the sand. City lights can confuse them so much that now lighting is regulated along some of these beaches.

Here in Chicago, birds fly into skyscraper windows throughout the night, confused by abundant lights and glass windows. This problem occurs primarily in the spring and fall during migration seasons, with thousands of birds dying yearly.

A wonderful organization called Bird Collision Monitors advocates for and rescues injured birds throughout the city. In the wee hours of the morning, volunteers scour the streets for injured feathered friends.

Actions We Can Take: About Your Bedroom

  • The lesson learned here is to turn off all your devices before going to sleep: TV, computer, cell phone, and reading light.
  • Leave all devices 3 to 5 feet away from you in order to avoid electromagnetic radiation at night. Put your Internet devices on Airplane Mode.
  • Use room darkening window shades to get complete darkness. If you must have a light at night, use a red bulb (which will not affect melatonin production).
  • Consider helping your friends become aware that all night light isn’t helpful. For example, as beautiful as this picture of Las Vegas is, lights turned upward to the sky are potentially wasted lights. Cheney notes more directed light with shades to funnel light downward is best.
  • If you work in a tall, glass building downtown, try to convince building management to treat the glass with applications to block a view of the interior -- it confuses birds. Also, ask them to extinguish or dim all lighting at night. Learn more from Bird Monitors.

The future of lighting will be in designing ways to illuminate the areas we need without polluting the rest of the world. If your next door neighbor has a flood light outside your bedroom window, this will intuitively make sense.

Thanks Lisa Files for recommending this fine documentary (also now available on Amazon.com) and for helping me write this up.

In CancerBrain Tags darknessEarth DayThe City Darklighttumorsmelatonincircadian rythymssea turtlesbird migration

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