How darkness can lighten up your life

Published: Sunday 16th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Most of us despair about the extra darkness this time of year brings.

This could be due to having less time outdoors, the dreaded winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

But darkness also plays a crucial part in keeping us healthy.

Just as sunlight is vital for vitamin D production and beyond, we couldn’t do without darkness either.

Here are three reasons why.

It regulates our body clock

As social creatures, we’ve come to rely on a 24-hour framework, regulating when we eat, work, rest and play.

Sleeping at night isn’t just logical though – it’s important as we’re biologically programmed to want to sleep when it’s dark.

Sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley says: “Darkness is an absolute prerequisite for good sleep. Our bodies are designed to work according to light/dark cycles.

“In the morning, it takes just four minutes’ daylight to tell our bodies it’s daytime.

“At night-time, the minute it starts going dark, we begin to release the hormone melatonin – the signal to the body that it’s time to sleep.”

It helps immune function

Poor sleep doesn’t just make us feel groggy and less able to concentrate, it impacts our health too.

Lack of quality sleep is linked with a suppressed immune system. So if you’re sleeping badly and feeling run down, catching every cold going, that could be why.

Melatonin also helps us fight cancer. Studies have suggested that sleeping in total darkness may be a factor in preventing cancer, and also in the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments.

Melatonin is central to it all, and one of the best things we can do is ban screens from the bedroom.

Dr Stanley said: “We know … that things like computers, TVs and mobile phones fluoresce in blue light, and blue light is what tells us it’s daytime.

Things that fluoresce blue actually stop the production of melatonin.

The advice is to get rid of the screens at least 45 minutes before lights out.”

It helps prevent obesity

Obesity rates and our technology addictions are rising – and the two seem to be linked.

This is not only because our reliance on screens means we spend less time moving and more time sedentary.

It is also because melatonin could play a significant role in our metabolisms.

A study by published earlier this year found women who sleep in a bedroom with enough light to see across the room at night, have bigger waistlines.

The link was still apparent even when other factors – like how much exercise they do – were taken into account.

It’s too early to fully explain the results, but a recent study by the University of Granada found melatonin injections helped reduce obesity and weight-related diabetes in rats.

Scientists believe the principles apply to humans too, and that our increased use of melatonin-blocking screens could be contributing to our increasing weight.

Copyright Press Association 2014

Published: Sunday 16th November 2014 by The News Editor

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