Just in the lifespans of our grandparents and great grandparents, life has changed completely. Its not just televisions, internet, cell phones and other electronics. The arrival of electric power had a dramatic effect on human life. We extended our waking day. For some of us it enables us to stay awake as late at night as we want. And many of us do want to stay up at night. It would not have been practical to stay awake at night without lights. Now, of course lighted gadgets make it even easier. In those dark days without artificial light, insomniacs would still be counting stars, singing and telling each other stories, if it were not for the light bulb.
As we have made progress, and seemingly made great strides in improving the human condition, we have also come across a great hurdle. Our bodies are not designed the way we are trying to use them. Try using a truck as a sports car or vice versa. You get the idea.
The human body, by design, functions on a day/night cycle. The presence of light during the day and the absence of it at night is designed to set up a series of chemical reactions that depend on these signals. It is called the circadian rhythm. How is it supposed to cope with a never ending presence of light then?
The system by its design allows the body to maintain its functions during the night by synchronizing it with the onset of sleep. Sleep allows us to rest, recharge, manage the immune system, maintain metabolism including body weight, appetite, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, process our thoughts, consolidate and process memories and performs countless other functions.
When, by extending our daylight hours through the use of technology, we constantly tellour bodies that days are consistently long, we interfere with the ability of the body to allow us sufficient sleep. Short sleep equals disruption in all those functions listed above and more.
So now, with us trying to do more, more, more, with our bodies and minds, with less sleep, less consolidated memory, abnormal blood sugar and blood pressure controls, weaker immune systems that are poorly modulated, increased appetite, and feeling tired, is it fair to complain that we have a generation of overweight people; that diabetes, hypertension and heart disease occur earlier in life; that we have more allergies and immune system problems; that the businesses of energy drinks and coffee are booming; that we use billions of dollars worth of sleeping pills, antidepressants and anxiety medicines?
By not understanding how our bodies are designed to function, and not following the rhythms of nature, are we not killing ourselves?
On September 10, 2012, the New York Times published a blog article about light exposure and sleep. A link to the article is copied here: