Monday, January 13, 2014

The Endless Summer

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. For all you are the children of light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do; but let us watch, and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunk, are drunk in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, having on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. -1 Thessalonians 5: 4-8

Nights and days, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Light and darkness, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. -Daniel 3:71-72

Early to bed, early to rise, makes one health, wealthy, and wise. -Benjamin Franklin

God works in cycles - light, dark, cold, heat, summer, winter.
All of the bless the Lord in their own way (Daniel 3).
I always feel more tired in the winter. I think most people do, actually, and I've always thought this. To explain this seasonal increase in sleepiness,  I have tended to say things like, "Well, it's hibernation season" and "It's cold out, and that makes me tired" and "The Christmas season just runs us ragged."

Turns out it's actually the fault of our electric lights.

The Endless Summer (ES) is a modern phenomenon characterized by long waking hours, high electricity consumption, sleep problems, increased stress, and a general inattention to the natural flow of the seasons. ES is essentially a chemically-induced constant state of wakefulness triggered by high-intensity, artificial, blue-wave lights that stay on after sundown, tricking our bodies into a constant state of daylight.

And no, it's most definitely not a good thing.

The ES phenomenon is one I first learned about with chickens. In chickens, egg production naturally declines during the winter months. I thought this was because it was cold, but animals are actually much less responsive to cold than humans are. Something about fur and feathers. But anyway, the "trick" to constant egg production is NOT heat - it's light.

"Put in a light bulb to turn on a few hours before sunrise, and your hens will lay all winter!" say the chicken folk. It does work - the pineal glands in chickens are light-responsive, and an increase in light results in a decrease in seasonal dormancy. And, as a result, the chickens never stop laying through the winter.

For the record, I do not add supplemental light for my chickens.

But here's the rub: in exchange for Endless Eggs in an Endless Summer, the chicken stops laying eggs at an earlier age, and actually has a decreased natural lifespan. In other words, by inducing ES, you kill your chickens faster.

Yes, they're chickens, and not humans. But the same principle actually applies: inducing a constant state of summer is detrimental to our health.

There is a very large and growing body of research to overwhelmingly support this thesis. One rabbit hole leads to another, and you can read about cortisol, the adrenal glands, the endocrine system, light-responsiveness, white vs. blue spectra, and on and on and on. But here's a quick summary of some key points:
Again, the body of research on this is kind of overwhelming, and there are many more studies and articles that point to similar conclusions - artificial lighting is seriously screwing up our stress levels, and consequently our quantity and quality of sleep, and consequently our overall health.

Live in ES and die sooner, just like your chickens.

From a Catholic perspective, this cycle has a unique place in Scripture. Sundown plays a very key role in the Jewish tradition. First off, sundown officially kicks off the Sabbath - a sundown to sundown rest. The key word there is REST, for in ceasing the day's activities at sundown, the Lord ensures His people get the proper amount of rest according to the day he has made. Leviticus 23 details the Sabbath and the feasts of the Lord, and in particualr that the Sabbath begins at sundown:

It is a sabbath of rest....From evening until evening you shall celebrate your sabbaths. -Leviticus 23:32

There are several other example in the Old Testament that the day, and activities thereof, end at sunset. See Deuteronomy 23, Daniel 6, 1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18, and 2 Samuel 3, to name a few.

Furthermore, the Catechism, and the Church in Her wisdom, have this to say regarding the research:

Faith and science : "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." (Dei Filius 4: DS 3017) "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are." (GS 36 ' 1). -CCC 159

These points need some reflection, I think. Reflection in how God made the cycles of the sun and the moon. Reflection of why and how humans need rest, and God not only designed it but commanded it. Reflection in the setting of the sun and its significance in the Scriptures and our bodies' natural rhythms.

Reflection in how our best health comes from working with God's design and not against it.

It's funny - the logic in turning off the screens and sleeping right is the same logic that is used in deciding to practice NFP. It's sound logic - work with nature, not against it, and therefore work with God who designed nature, and not against Him, to have more abundant life. But how often do we compartmentalize!

"Be still and know that I am God" -Psalm 46:10
Back on the scientific front, the best ways to combat ES are:

  • Turn off all electronics earlier in the day. Some say 1 hour before bed, some say by 6 PM, others say three hours before bed, others say 8 PM. I think the point is clear - the human body simply cannot flip a switch and sleep properly after being assaulted by stressors and blue night until midnight.
  • Keep cognitive activity and mental stimulation to a minimum after the sun goes down.
  • Sleep in the most total darkness possible.
  • Find ways to mentally wind down before bed, including prayer, reading, and meditation, and excluding TV, internet, and blue-light-emitting activities.
  • Make rest time a time of true rest
  • Start the day earlier!

With all of this being said, I still have absolutely no idea how to stop the ES from affecting my family. There are so many things that need to be addressed, from school projects sometimes going on until 9 PM, to Sunday Night Football, to "family fun nights" centered around an evening movie, to late Scout meetings, to my own tendencies to plop down and play Words with Friends at 10:00, and the list goes on.

To combat ES would require a total family culture shift. And those do not come easy.

The research is overwhelming. The personal indictment of my own life is a bit jarring. It's not a small undertaking in changing a whole family culture. But I do love my family, and I do want what is best for them (and for myself, too). I very much want us to move into a healthier state. I want balance.

So, I'm thinking baby steps. Little by little, we can come to live healthier lives and be more in accordance with nature, rather than fighting against it and suffering for it in the long term (isn't that always how it goes?). In the ideal world, we'd all get up with the sun, attend to our morning chores, complete our school/work/daily routines, have dinner, go outside in the gardens during the summer, wind down with the sun, pray together, and get enough rest. of course, life is not always ideal. So, for now, it's baby steps.

So, step 1 in the Journey to End the Endless Summer: wake up early.

Stay tuned to see how it goes.....

No comments:

Post a Comment