Another theory from Iris Einstein
Here I am again, stirred to another theory, thanks to a book I recently nabbed off Crimmie, all about ‘the evils of 21st century life’; their effects on our health. You know the kind of thing: hypertension, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, diabetes II, obesity, etc, etc.
It’s typical of Crimmie to buy such a book, a health freak since the year dot—won’t stop playing doctors and nurses. She even has a diploma, would you believe, in Nutritional Therapy (had by post!). It entitles her to use the initials N.U.T.S. after her name. (I wonder why she doesn’t use it?)
Anyway, in this ‘Evils of C21st Living’ book there’s a chapter on Insomnia. Aha, I thought, I’ll read this, cos, well, hyperactive brain me, I do often find sleep elusive (a subtle contradiction, that: if I found sleep, it wouldn’t be elusive.)
So, in this chapter on Insomnia the author advocates sleeping in ABSOLUTE dark. Like, ZERO LIGHT. According to the author, this is Man’s natural sleep environment, and the only way the brain can produce the necessary melatonin.
Up for anything, I tried it.
It was the very, very worst night I ever have had. Notice I didn’t say ‘night’s sleep’. It wasn’t a night’s sleep. Sleep didn’t even venture near. It was more like torture, like-like sensory deprivation.
Okay, some people cope with it—but apparently not me. Some people are trained to it—but apparently not me. I don’t mean I sleep with all lights blazing. But what with the moon, the stars, street lights, etc, it’s nigh impossible to exclude every glimmer of light. It might seem velvety black when I switch off the bedside lamp, but the eyes soon grow accustomed, and hey-ho, it’s then not black but grey. But not on this night. This night it remained unrelieved black.
Held in insomnia’s familiar embrace, my mind started working. It started asking questions. It asked: when, during the long evolution of humankind, did we ever EVER sleep in this absolute blackness?
It wasn’t while we were roaming the Savannah. There we had the moon shining brightly upon us. Okay, not every night for (though many authors seem to forgot it) the moon spends half its cycle pale in the day-sky. But even with an absentee moon there’d still be the stars. The artificial lighting we blast into the night sky obscures all but the brightest of those. But away from the cities, the towns, the industrial complexes, the rural communities, the combined light of those stars can cast even the moon into darkness (poetically speaking).
Neither was it during our nomadic, hunter-gathering days with our temporary stick-woven huts huddled around a communal fire. We needed that fire to fend off nocturnal predators. They had eyes evolved to see in the dark. We did not. And the smoke from that fire kept the insects at bay. Even when we found a convenient cave, the thick deposits of soot on the cave-roofs attest to our continued use of fire – set in the entrance to keep away predators.
And then we built houses. But windowless, note, no light creeping in there. No, but they did have some kind of door-hole (dumbo!), which weren’t yet sealed by a solid plank door, not this early in Man’s carpentry achievements. Perhaps a hide-hanging was used? Yeah, but you reckon that would defend against the combined moon and stars? Their light could easily sneak around it. And, of course, there was the fire.
We might have cooked our food outside (there’s nothing new about the patio BBQ) yet we made sure there was always a glowing hearth inside—to keep the predators away while we slept; to keep the roof, walls and bedding bug-free; to keep our toes warm before the advent of tog 8 duvets.
And so, with only a few minor adjustments (cooking became an indoor sport), the situation remained—through the medieval period, through the Tudor era (though I’m here talking of England it was much the same throughout urbanised Eurasia), through the Georgian period and into the Victorian.
But even during the Victorian period we didn’t sleep in the dark—the proof of that is the ubiquitous bedroom fireplace. And it wasn’t only the posh houses of the wealthy who had them. They also graced the houses of the most humble (myself have lived in three separate examples, all C20th builds, one even post WW11).
The bedroom fire was made possible by the advent of coal. Coal had been mined since Tudor times, but it wasn’t until the Victorian period that it gained so much in popularity—in cheapness and availability—that it ousted completely the wood or turf fire. A coal-fire was long-burning, and safer. It didn’t suddenly flare and dangerously spit a shower of sparks to catch alight the carpets and bedding.
But the avid Victorian industrialists found yet another use for coal—leaving aside the plastics industries. In converting coal to coke (needed to fuel the ‘Satanic Mills’ of the north) they released another excellently useful resource—coal gas. Stored in whopping great gas-holders, the gas was piped through the streets, not only to fuel the domestic lamps that soon replaced wax candles, but also to fuel the newly-installed street lights.
Gone, then, was the darkness of night—at least in the towns and cities.
I grew up in a rural region. I was into my teens before we had street lights. Yet there was always the moon and the stars, else the light seeping through ill-drawn curtains, to illumine my way home from Crimmie’s folks’ house.
So, tell me, during our long evolution from the Savannah to the streets of Manhattan, when did we experience this absolute dark that, apparently, our melatonin requires?
I say it never did happen.
I say it’s not natural to sleep in absolute black.
I say that’s why kids don’t like it.
I say that’s why we use the word ‘dark’ as synonymous with ‘evil’.
I say ABSOLUTE BLACK ain’t natural.