The best night’s sleep

Last night I slept on the sand, keeping watch over a turtle nest that is about to hatch. If they hatch while no one is there, every single baby turtle will disorient towards a ridiculously bright parking lot street lamp, and ultimately die.

Artificial light at night is sometimes necessary, but it can severely affect both animals and people.

A European scientific committee recently found that “Exposure to light at night (independent of lighting technology) while awake (e.g. shift work) may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and also cause sleep, gastrointestinal, mood and cardiovascular disorders.”

Other studies have linked nighttime fluorescent light exposure (while both awake and asleep) to stress, cancers, shortened life span, dental caries, diabetes, ADD and a long list of other problems.

Those of us who live in cities can never fully soak up the rich darkness of night or bathe in the crystalline star and moonlight. Stars are hardly visible, and when it comes to the cycles of the sun, moon and earth, we are, as Wordsworth wrote, “out of tune.”

Lying there with my back firmly against the sandy ground, I marveled at how utterly majestic and gorgeous the night sky is: giant white clouds rolled in from the horizon, changing shapes in unpredictable ways. The few stars I could see invoked wonder — although it made me sad to know there were so many obscured by the city’s lights. When I was on the small Carribbean island of Vieques, I was able to witness the glorious Milky Way for the first time.

I felt my tension melt away, felt connected to and cradled by the vast universe. The turtles know to hatch at night through innate cues, one having to do with electromagnetism. I can’t explain it, but I think the moon and the night exude a special energy upon the world’s creatures, one they need to stay fully balanced and well.

For millennia, man rose with the sun and, if he stayed awake after sunset, did so talking, laughing and singing around a campfire. At Day’s Close explains how artificial lighting transformed the night into a time for revelry, rendezvous, political intrigues and downright debauchery. The evolution, if you will, of nightlife.

Nightlife is grand and exciting. I love staying up late — to work, play or just hang out. My chronotype and circadian rhythms dictate that I am a night owl. Some studies say that night owls are more intelligent, creative and have more “staying power.” However, since our 8-5 society favors morning larks, they tend to be healthier and happier. That makes sense because I absolutely dread waking up early. And no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make myself go to bed early. Earlier risers, interestingly, were also found to be more conscientious and cooperative.

Exposure to lighting and age can affect sleep patterns, but about 50 percent is genetically determined. But beyond all this there is another modern technology that affects health and sleep quality: electromagnetic pollution. EMFs emitted by cell phones, laptops, modems, alarm clocks, wires and more can subtly affect us in a variety of ways. Some people are more “electrosensitive” than others. Many people are negatively affected without even realizing it. But try a night away from it all, and you will be able to tell the difference.

My best night’s sleeps occurred when I was removed from radiation and electropollution: the time I slept in a centuries-old estancia in the Argentine countryside; the time I slept in a wooden cabin in the snowy mountains of Utah; the time I slept in a hammock in the high desert valley of an isolated Indian reservation; and nights like last night, sleeping while connected to the healing powers of the earth, lulled by the sounds of the waves, caressed by a light breeze, and pondering the endless beauties and eternal depths of the universe.

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