Now that it’s back to Standard Daylight Time (for a few weeks now), we’re confronted by the shortness of days. When it was still dark 7:30, I was more ready to get up when my alarm went off than I am now, when 7:30 is already light out. And it turns out I have a lot to say about circadian rhythms and assumptions due to seasonal lighting.
Sometimes it’s special to get up before dawn and watch the world come to life. At the bird observatory at the tip of the island, we’d have to get out there a half-hour before dawn to catch the morning birds, active before the heat of the day. I liked the drive in early-morning traffic.
In Denmark, where winter days were 7 hours long (8:30 to 3:30; summer nights seeming even shorter), I revelled in the gloaming. So do the Danes: they consume more candles per person than the rest of the world. It’s called “at hygge” — ah hoogeh: being cozy and comfortable. But typically, you hygge with candles in the evening.
The morning: get ready for work. As the day begins these days, my three squirrels come to the door, hoping to see some life on the inside. I’ve got a routine from 7:30 to 9 — after that, it’s up and out.
Despite what all the productivity people say, in the morning, my brain is not up for deep or creative thought. As for otherwise being on the ball, yes: mornings are when I prefer physical work. However, winter has less physical work, so mornings enforce some creative space between me and my computer, and I don’t mind that.
Being sequestered for winter is still productive time, especially for thinking and work between me and paper/the computer, and social efforts. It has been, throughout the world, a time of learning and cultural production.
Winter also changes my afternoon nap habit. During the warm six months out of the year, I take my paperwork and go sit in the sun or shade to do it on the back deck, front step/stoop, or anywhere outside! And if I get drowsy, I take a postprandial afternoon nap. Some people think a nap is a bad thing, and when one is busy I can see how some can see it as “lazy,” but it’s actually smart. The recharge it gives you increases your productivity. And in winter, when I nap, I try to do it in a patch of sunlight.
I live and work by natural light, so much so that it bothers me when people just live under electric light as if it’s as good or better. Even if my most productive time is later in the day and evening (when it’s by fire and incandescent light), it bothers me, when daylight is full, to flip on a light because a room or a corner is dim. Natural light is there: seek it if you need it. I also don’t like the design of office and shopping spaces so that ambient light is artificial (and, as in the past, providing way more flourescent than LED and halogen for overhead or work lighting). Perhaps it intentionally removes you from a sense of the time-of-day.
It’s also an unnecessary draw on the electrical grid. If placing no importance on natural light and circadian rhythms is what you really want to do, then at least do it yourself by setting up solar and wind power on the building’s roof.
I just mentioned incandescent lights, but to be fair, I use them only in winter. I’ve converted over to LEDs for overhead lighting, but the wasted electricity of incandescent lightbulbs is thrown off as heat. The colour of the light, the warmth of it, is exactly what we need once summer turns to fall, and all through winters. It’s excellent task lighting for reading and desk lamps and for crafts and cozy nooks. What North America needs is a low-watt, high-output incandescent bulb like they have in Europe, where it’s not a loss of heat energy. We can feel that heat; it may even have an effect on the ambient temperature that the thermostat measures before it regulates your heating registers.
I propose we make all our buildings passive solar. We should get all employees working at least half their day in natural light. Not only have our artificial lighting needs crept upwards, our assumption about the proper room temperature during the seasons has, too. 19º is warm by any other measure. Readjust our perception of appropriate building heat by decoupling it from the assumptions we’ve been making about HVAC for the past 20 years or more. A passive building will effectively shift our perceptions.
Being a bit of a late worker/night owl myself, working late is a necessary accommodation for a lot of people. But we need to drop shift work, except for essential services (police, hospitals, hotel accommodation, limited transport and gas stations, emergency veterinarians, security). The health and social information about the detriments of nightshift work have long been in, and yet we still allow it to go unfettered if the market supports it. Overnights? How about shifts that go from 8 PM to 3 AM, and then 3 AM to 10 AM. The person staying up to 3 has it harder, scientifically, than the one rising at 3. But both get to sleep during a natural part of the night.
There seems to be an agenda implied in the design of public and work spaces, where we set the world alight on the dark side of the planet, leaving lights on in buildings past midnight for no reason; killing billions of migrating birds (we need to alter the tempered window glass for daytime visibility, and turn off the lights at night), and disturbing sleep and peace. It even implicates cancer, and increases prescription drug use through anything that contributes to insomnia. Finally, the security assumption of night lighting is belied in that it kills humans’ night vision: they see less for all the illumination.
I reject the assumptions that we should have a 24/7 world. The idea that faster spending makes a better economy, a sense of entitlement about extended shopping hours, constant activity outside one’s front door so that one feels “safer” or a part of something — these are false anxieties.
We have always had 18 hour days. Taverners go to bed late, bakers rise early. Some things can and do happen overnight. But try to imagine everyone having the same day off per week, or a level field in which we have one common social day off per week. It’s the presumption that everything should always be open that breaks down the fairness of a day of rest. It also increases our pressure on resources, on ourselves, and on each other. Imagine the benefits of a society built not for 24 hours, but a standard that takes full advantage of the day, and does not apply day standards to the night. And then imagine a world that goes to sleep at night, and rises with the dawn. It sounds a little more peaceful, and lot more efficient.
Originally published at Big City, Little Homestead.