By Punya Srivastava
Could the startling decrease in health and mental peace in the modern age have their roots in the ubiquitous use of artificial light? asks Punya Srivastava
Ever wondered what consequences electric light has on our health? Yes, those tubelights glowing brightly in our rooms, those incandescent bulbs in our table lamps or those jazzy CFL lamps on our workstations – every form of artificial light has an adverse effect on our health. But electric light has become such an intrinsic part of our lives that we have forgotten to live without it or even imagine our lives without it.
As I practised surya namaskar in a yoga session, the central place that surya or the sun holds in human life hit me in the eye. Of course, we all are aware of the sun as our ‘source of existence’ on earth, but do we fully appreciate its significance? How often do we wonder what would our world be without the sun and the wholesome nurturing it provides to creation in the form of natural light and heat? Not only does the relation between the sun and earth result in day and night, months and seasons, but countless aspects of our mental and physical health are influenced by the rhythms of light that strike the earth.
Light and the human body
Through various studies, it has long been established that a system for keeping time is built into our body which coordinates all its functions. This is known as the Circadian Rhythm (CR). All organisms have a time-keeping system. In humans, CR prepares us for the start of each new day. For example, just before dawn when we awaken, our heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature begin to rise and the hormone which helps us defend against stress, starts to increase from its low night-time level. Various hormones which govern each and every function of our body, are secreted only through the offices of the CR.
According to Dr. Vijaya Venkat, Founder of the Health Awareness Centre, Mumbai, our health depends on the duration, frequency and intensity of natural light that is available to the body. “Twelve hours of daylight produce active hormones (serotonin) along with other supportive bio-chemicals to make the body function efficiently. Full energy is released within the body during this time. With 12 hours of night, the body produces melatonin (along with other hormones) which induces sleep to help our body rejuvenate, and to also regenerate the cells.’ Our body’s fluids and tissues function according to the Circadian Rhythm, which makes our physical and mental abilities differ widely from one time of the day to another. Says Vijaya Venkat, “The efficiency with which cooked food can be digested peaks at mid-day and sunset. Our cells repair and divide to form new cells after sunset only, when we are rested.”
The most important factors to control our ‘time-keeping’, are therefore the neurotransmitters, melatonin and serotonin. And for proper functioning of the human body, they need to be secreted into our blood at the naturally appointed time. But thanks to the presence of artificial light, our work hours or ‘waking’ hours have increased tremendously, leaving very few hours of darkness for our bodies. It is only in the cloak of comforting darkness that the pineal gland secrets melatonin. Thanks to artificial light, our bodies are exposed to only six to seven hours of darkness rather than the 12 hours mandated by the CR. Because of this, the natural healing process of our body is hugely delayed, creating all kinds of health ailments. Although one cannot pinpoint a definite disease or disorder caused by exposure to artificial light, the fact remains that it affects the whole biological rhythm of the body. According to Dr. Venkat, change in any part of the body affects every other part. “When exposed to artificial light, the pineal gland, which controls everything from our activity and sleep to immunity, BP and reproduction, does not secrete melatonin, thus affecting everything else. Reduced immunity to colds, headaches, depression or even cancer can be related to the disruption of melatonin and rest/sleep cycles,” she says. Deviation from our natural rhythm results in abnormal secretions of melatonin and serotonin, leading to erratic biological rhythms, which subsequently disrupts the entire functioning of our body, affecting sleep and digestion, hormonal balance and cell metabolism, sexual behavior, memory, appetite and menstrual cycles.
There is a strong link between melatonin and cancer. Melatonin protects our cells from mutating. Hence its inadequate supply can increase the risk of cancer-related mutations. Epidemiology studies show that while the link between light, night and cancer may seem like a stretch on the surface, there is an underlying biological basis for it. Artificial light also affects the production of female hormones, increasing the risk of breast cancer.
Says Vijaya Venkat, ‘Recently, we were given the opportunity of applying the methodology of Natural Living to five cancer patients, medically termed as actively dying, at the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mira Road, Mumbai. All I did was to stop all medication, put them on a plant-based diet, and stop all artificial lighting. After sunset, patients were encouraged to stay in darkness. In the span of 14 days, all except one, recovered! It is a sad fact that after the period of the study they could not be monitored on a long-term basis.’
In the dark
The significance of darkness is known best to yogis and mystics, it is said. Why? Because darkness directly affects the pineal gland or the third eye.
“Darkness is where you surrender,” says Sanjiv Ranjan, healer and author of the recently published book, Seven Mystical Laws of Self Healing. According to him, those who have explored their inner world have seen a reflection of this mysterious organ (pineal gland/third eye), on the curtain of the closed eye and that is why all spiritual seekers have sought darkness.
Darkness also affects one’s mood. Darkness (or melatonin in hormonal terms) makes you feel mellow. Your mind relaxes, as you move from the beta brainwave state to the more creative and softer, alpha state. The events of the day, the struggle, the disappointments, the missed targets, all begin to recede into the background, and you begin to long for the company of the one you love. Artificial light, post sunset, denies you this mellow feeling, which is a very essential aspect of tender relating. It makes you incriminating, it makes you condemn, and your over-heated mind needs somebody to blame, so that you can get the day off your chest.
“The pineal gland is the bridge between the spiritual and the material world. And artificial light is its worst enemy. It lulls you into dormancy. You think you are awake, but actually you are sleep-walking. It is a strange paradox. Thanks to artificial light, your third eye, your pineal gland, lies dormant,” adds Ranjan.
In order to bring back the natural stability to our Circadian Rhythm, we must become aware of the fact that it exists. We must respect the natural processes of our bodies, and not take them for granted. Here are some ways to minimise the ‘alert’ state of the body after sunset:
• Switch off electric lights whenever and wherever possible at least in your own home.
• Use lower voltage bulbs/night lamps/candles/aroma burners instead.
• Invest in lamps with shades directing light downward. It will help you see yet direct light away from your eyes.
• Try to wrap up your work post sunset – emails, net surfing.
• Avoid watching television before sleeping.
• Many family activities do not require harsh artificial light. Enjoy soft cozy lighting instead.
• Switch off appliances that stay on in the background like computers, tablets, and television.
• Have an early dinner and go for a walk with the night breeze accompanying you.
• Wear an eye mask if you cannot control the light around or in your sleeping space.
• Sleep at the proper time – it is more important than how long you sleep.
It is time we appreciated the maxim we learnt in our childhood: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man (and a woman too) healthy, wealthy and wise.
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