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.

About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
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12 Responses to ABSOLUTE BLACK

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    When you consider how hard it is to find absolute darkness in nature (cave), hey, yeah!

    I had a different problem growing up: the sounds of the night. Where I grew up, a church clock that actually belongs to the town struck the hours throughout the night. I got used to that, crickets, frogs, and the like. It always takes me a while to adjust to quieter or noisier environments. And Manhattan, where I lived opposite a car garage, gave me a different noise to endure: the beep-boom-beep-boom of those (insert profanity here) car alarms.


    • crimsonprose says:

      I can sympathise with your having church bells. I live next to the town hall; it’s clock strikes the 1/4 hour. And if that’s not enough, from May through August the Lesser & Greater Black Backed Gulls believe that every high ledge around here is a rock face – and they fight over it. Then the chicks pipe for their food – then they fight each other. Then between 2:00 & 2:30 am a neighbour comes home on his motorbike – and parks it outside my window with lots of noisy revving. And at 5:00 am the roadsweeper arrives. Wouldn’t be so bad if it just drove on past, but it does this little circling dance on the adjacent (municipal) car park. Then, on a Tuesday and Thursday the refuse collectors arrive with their crush-on-the-spot machinery – at 6:00 am. Thereafter the roads get busy with the first blush of the rush hour. Oh, did I say of the drunks? They sing (which I don’t mind) and fight (which I do mind) between the hours of 11:00 pm and 3:00 am. What chance do I have of getting to sleep. Yet I do – most nights. And I only wake up twice – sometimes only once (or is that a dream?)
      I really don’t think modern insomnia is caused by too much light. It’s caused by the rucking noise pollution. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Russell says:

        I agree with you that complete darkness is neither natural nor desirable, and that noise is a much more serious detriment to sleep.
        It sounds like all you lack is some source of noise pollution *inside* your house, CP. No leaking taps, restless pets, or poltergeists to round out your woes?


      • crimsonprose says:

        While the fridge makes a gurgling noise as it automatically defrosts and recycles, there is nothing else. Despite my cosy pad was built in 1603 (by best buddy of the Cromwells) there seems to be no ghosts – merely the icy cold draughts from mists rising from the river. I’ve not even got rats, which is quite surprising, though pleasing, I find it effective to fall asleep while playing soothing blues through the headphones!


      • Russell says:

        The fridge doesn’t sound too bad; I usually found watery sounds soothing. Do you mean the Lord Protector, or further back to Thomas? I just finished Mantel’s *Bring Up The Bodies*, so if you do encounter any Cromwell ghosts, please blog about it. Soothing blues is a nice way to go — have you ever tried one of those white noise/sound generators?


      • crimsonprose says:

        I guess it must have been Oliver’s father (Robert Cromwell), since Oliver Cromwell would have been just 4 yrs old in 1603. However, the Carters and Cromwells continued to be close friends throughout the following 50 yrs. They used the house next door for their conspiracy meetings; the death warrant for King Charles was signed by both men, just a stone’s throw down the road from here. For someone as interested in history as I am it’s a perfect place to live. It’s also built on land which, until the Dissolution, had been a priory (one of 3 in this very small town), There’s evidence of my kitchen being built around the remains of the granary. I have a C13th beam over the window and door.
        And do assure you, if I encounter a Cromwell, or any other named, ghost I shall blog it.
        Having said that (see below), when I first moved in, and for about the first 5 yrs, I often felt a ‘presence’ snuggling up to me in bed at nights. It stopped when, due to a back injury, I spent some time sleeping propped up on the settee instead. I’ve not been troubled since. Unless you count a visit from my mother 3 days after her death, and more recently a visit from a close friend who died of cancer 3 weeks ago. He came to ask my forgiveness for what he’d thought was less than perfect treatment of me. It wasn’t needed; I’d forgiven him a long time since. Who amongst us is perfect?
        So, those are my ghosts. And no, I’ve not tried white noise. I have a fantastic CD of Australian aborigine music, backed by native animal sounds, and another, ditto, of Africa. They’re brilliant for relaxation.


      • Russell says:

        Re: Oliver C. Yes, of course — I should have checked my dates.
        In any case, quite an historical pad you have there, CP! The snuggling presence is interesting; do you suppose it took the hint when you started sleeping on the settee?
        As for your other visitors, I think we have to count them, certainly, unless you intended their haunts to be understood in a purely psychological way?
        And who needs white noise when you have the didgeridoo?


      • crimsonprose says:

        It is the belief in some cultures that the spirit of the newly departed will visit friends and family, and enemies, to square the ills caused during their life, so it’s not carried over into the new life. This is supposed to occur within 5 days of death. Despite being ‘raised’ with the notion of reincarnation, I didn’t really believe all this spirit stuff until the first visit. I cannot say my mother and I had a good relationship. We did not. And her ‘visit’ – which was in definitely more than a psychological sense – allowed me to say things I should have voiced a long time ago – for her benefit as well as my own. The second visit was far more calm and loving. But there were issues outstanding, and I know he was feeling guilty about it – I know that cos he told my daughter (who was with him when he died.) So he paid the visit to get it straightened.
        So now I’m a believer in the existence of ‘something’ after death. Though why it’s taken these recent events, when throughout my life there have been some very strong experiences . . .
        As to the snuggles . . . I don’t know. To visit one’s relations within the 5 days post death is one thing. But who or what was it snuggling up to me? Obviously someone/something wanted my warmth. I’d prefer not to think too deeply on that! 🙂


  2. Judy says:

    Perhaps the clue is we need ‘natural’ darkness which may be not devoid of any light. Rather absent stimulating wavelengths we get from our electronic devices. Those will interfere with melatonin production. Ever go to bed tired but wired after an evening computer stint? I do better if I try for dim light awhile before I intend to sleep. But point well taken ….absolute black is just as artificial as human comfort goes.


    • crimsonprose says:

      You make a good point of the computer. I’ve had to discipline myself to stay away in the later part of the evening (though my computer is also my entire entertainment system – no TV, me, & the laptop is connected to crack-hot speakers so it’s still running, either for DVDs,, YouTube documentaries or movies, or for music). However, there are times when comments are coming through late (due to time difference UK/USA that I break that rule.


      • Judy says:

        Yeah I know..it is totally hard to hold to this issue even though we know we might pay the price in loss of some great sleep. What I hate is being tired in the early evening and then perking up and going to the computer at 10pm, feeling great and working knowing I’ll pay. Why can’t our energy levels match when we should instead of when we shouldn’t?


      • crimsonprose says:

        Hey, you’re talking to someone with CFS! I have this cartoony image of the body as a bank, storing energy instead of money. And sometimes the cash dispenser goes on the blink and refuses to cough up the dollars. But I know I’ve just made a major deposit!


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