...of the dark. Yes, I'm 43 years old and I still do not like to sleep alone without some sort of light on. I have never liked the darkness of the night, and throughout my life have found it at best, unsettling, or at worst, panic inducing - causing me to lose sleep and feel very frightened.
It started, as most things do, in childhood. I can remember the specific nightmares and fears of being in the dark - of walking past the stairs from the kitchen to the living room, of crying out for my mother late in the night and the reoccurring dreams that brought me terror. Through my teenage years, which were fuelled by bad 80's horror movies, into my early twenties living alone in my student house, I've always needed a source of light when the sun goes down.
My fear has been compounded as an adult and a mother, with my husband frequently working night shifts and then in recent years looking after two young children, who would invariably be unwell when I was home alone in the middle of the night! I have found myself saying, "if I can get through the next few hours, stay awake until sunrise, I'll be OK". It is as though everything is so much more difficult when it is dark - my fears, anxieties and racing mind can be easily distracted when the sun is shining, but as soon as the light diminishes, so does my confidence.
So why do I share this with you? Well, first of all, it is good to own up to your fears - big or small. Even as an adult, this fear has dogged me and my hope in sharing this will, if you like, bring it out of the shadows where it has been hiding all my life. Secondly, I realised this past week I rarely experience true night darkness. The type where you can't see your own hand in front of you, so pitch black that your eyes do not fully adjust. That was until recently, when we stayed for a few nights in a treehouse.
We were in a remote part of mid Wales, on a farm, in a forest, up a tree with no electricity. The only lights were a string of solar powered fairy lights, the log burner and candles. It was rustic, back to nature living. All was cosy and glowing during the early evening, reading by candle light, playing board games and making a journey outside with a torch - all good fun. Until it was time to turn out the lights. Now, bear in mind I was not alone, so I was not frightened - but my little boy was. He cannot sleep without a night light of some sort either. So, we waited until he was fully asleep and then turned out all the lights, apart from the glowing embers of the fire, it was pitch dark. Inky, black and thick. I loved it, there was a sense of truth about it - this is how it is meant to be. With no light pollution, street lamps or traffic - the darkness was a comforting blanket of silence and stillness.
In fact, it was the forest that was the blackest, the sky remained a shade of grey blue for many hours. As I peered out of our lofty home the trees were black silhouettes that carved themselves out of the sky - they were impenetrable. I did not feel uneasy or frightened. Yes, my experience and feelings about this might be different if I was alone, but the dark felt real and right. Unfortunately, the quiet was soon interrupted by my boys cries of "Stop it! I don't like it! Where am I?" His fear waking him with full force at being in such darkness. The second night we all slept more peacefully, with the torchlight on.
This experience got me thinking: where has all the darkness gone? Why do I never see the blackness of night regularly, like I did in that treehouse? Well, for one thing, there is a very bright street lamp right outside our house. Whilst this is great for security and has also been reassuring to me when home alone, it floods our bedroom with artificial light. And that is the problem - artificial light. The reason the darkness felt so real, true and honest, was because it is - we are meant to sleep in that kind of blackness. Our body is built and designed with a circadian rhythm where serotonin rises in the day with sunlight to wake us and keep us awake and then decreases to be replaced by melatonin, the sleep hormone, when the sun drops below the horizon. We have an in-built need for darkness.
Light pollution is a problem, it changes how we interact with nature and our in-built natural sleep clock. According to International Dark-Sky Association, light pollution results in a waste of electrical energy and money, disrupting wildlife and ecosystems. They also state "research suggests that artificial light at night can negatively affect human health, increasing risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and more."
There is another factor - darkness, as you have read, makes me uncomfortable, especially if I am alone in it. I shy away from discomfort, as most of us do, seeking out the light, warm and easy. But I am wondering, what if the darkness holds something important for me, a lesson or an understanding about the world around me? Could it be possible that I am missing out on half my life by turning all the lights on? So, I plan to find out. I am going to seek out dark places and sit in them, maybe not alone at first, but eventually. A sort of exposure-therapy if you will. I will keep you posted as to how I get on.
In the meantime, I plan to reduce my use of lights at home - especially screens before bed and thicker, blackout curtains in our bedroom. I also hope that embracing the night will encourage my little boy to eventually do the same. What are your thoughts about being afraid of the dark, or anything else for that matter, is there a fear you would like to bring into the light? I'd love to know, either on here in the comments below or on my Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter
Image via Unsplash