One of the many gifts of being young is the ability to dive deeply into sleep at the end of the day and wake up several hours later, rested and reenergized. But sometime around middle-age sleep starts to become a luxury that one becomes less and less able to afford.
For some it is the inability to fall asleep, for others sleep is intermittent—it becomes truncated. And so one starts to spend more time awake in the dark.
For many, the dark and darkness have deep connotations to fear. Through nursery rhymes and fairy tales we learn at a young age to fear the dark. We may have had a scary experience while playing hide-and-seek and being locked inside a cupboard or tickle trunk. We may have heard noises in the night that we could not comprehend.
As we grow up, we internalize the bogey-man, the fear of the deep woods, the distrust of the unknown and the other. Often this fear of the dark and cultural ideas of darkness become associated with fear of people with darker skin tones. They become overlaid with imaginary screens for the projection of our deepest fears, not because there is anything unusually scary that is intrinsic to them. Sometimes these fears of the other develop into things like misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, trans-phobia, and xenophobia.
Researchers tell us that the ubiquity of electronic screens – televisions, laptops and phones – are interfering with our sleep patterns. Before the invention of electricity and lightbulbs and everything that has flowed from that, humans were evolved and adapted – perhaps with a little help from fire and candles – to the daily and seasonal cycles of light and dark. Isn’t it time to unplug our screens? Isn’t it time to re-connect with what is real?
One of the many gifts of being older is the gift of being awake in the night, and the ability to get to know the dark, to really explore it. People who live in the country, away from the light pollution of cities, come to know the different textures, phases and sounds of the dark.
Instead of fighting against our shifting circadian rhythms, what if we started to embrace the gifts of the dark? Instead of struggling to get back to sleep, what if when we wake up in the silvery night, we take the time to meditate? What if we keep the lights off and recall the voices of our elders telling us stories, or compose stories to tell our loved ones? What if we use the time to enjoy passionate connection with a partner? What if we realize that in the dark, we can’t see skin colour and we are all just human?
Just as a nap during the day is refreshing and energizing, periods of creative wakefulness at night may be what we need to fully embrace our humanity. Let there be both light and darkness.