Lights Out: Overview

Better night's sleep Dr. Theresa
For millions of years, humans had no control over the night. So our bodies evolved to read the signals of day and night, summer and winter.

Sunshine in the morning told our bodies and brains to get up and face the day. Dark at night told us to sleep. Short days in winter said it was the season to burn fat and rest. Long days in summer told us to be active and store fat while food was plentiful.

Then, a little over 100 years ago, Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. For the first time in millions of years, our dwellings are full of electronic equipment emitting light. With the electricity and light came various other miracle technologies that created a culture of nonstop hyperactivity.

Our hormones are amazingly sensitive to light. Not just our eyes, but even the backs of our knees, can sense light and signal the brain to produce stress hormones. This disrupts our body rhythms.

Lights out for sleep
Our body needs dark at night to rest properly. This rest facilitates various processes, such as the health of our gut bacteria. But a home full of light at night tells our brain that night never came. So the body does not rest, melatonin is suppressed and other hormones are misled.

The answer is to turn off all the lights — including the TV — at night when you go to sleep. Use heavy draperies or blackout shades to completely darken the room. Some of most overstimulating light comes from computer monitors and televisions (which have become enormous and powerful). Avoid these immediately before sleep. Read a book instead!

Children need full dark in order for their eyes to develop. Night lights are not a good idea.

Lights out to burn fat in winter
In the modern world, many of us live in endless summer. Winter never comes. The lights are always on. We eat a lot of sugar, which used to only be available during the summer. Summertime is about stress, sugar and sunlight. In the real world, it only lasts a few months. Then we settle into winter. In the modern world, winter never comes. The result of this endless summer is that our bodies stay in fat storage mode and we are forced to chronically diet to  lose the weight we can’t seem to stop gaining.

Summer must end. In the fall and winter, especially, engage in activities that help you wind down in time for a reasonable bedtime.

More information
See also my article on sleep.

For a more evolutionary approach that ranges further afield, some readers may also gain useful tips from author T.W. Wiley’s Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. This book is unconventional and opinionated. But it changed how I think about things. It made me think about the life I live in a very different way, and question some of my assumptions. It made me realize that we are like zoo animals living in the habitats that we have designed for ourselves. I didn’t agree with everything in it. You don’t need to follow all of her suggestions. But the book will open your eyes to how your body functions.

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