Like a lot of folks navigating their seventh decade, My Lovely Wife often has trouble getting to sleep and staying that way until morning. It doesn’t seem to matter how she prepares herself for bedtime: She can avoid all screens, abstain from all alcohol, read until her head nods. Nothing guarantees a full night of uninterrupted slumber.
Thankfully, MLW’s schedule typically includes no morning obligations, and I often head out the door to the office happy to hear her peacefully sawing logs in my absence. And while she’s pretty certain that she’s getting enough sleep without joining the one in three American seniors who rely on sleep-inducing pharmaceuticals, she has for years struggled to establish a more predictable nocturnal pattern.
Fortysome years of cohabitation have taught me that MLW doesn’t always appreciate advice on this topic from a guy who conks out effortlessly every night at 11 and awakens annoyingly refreshed eight or nine hours later. Besides, she’s done all the research; she understands all the forces that sabotage her slumber. Sometimes she manages to overcome them, sometimes they prevail.
But I couldn’t help but call her attention to a study I stumbled upon last week that points a finger at a hitherto unidentified suspect in the widespread theft of geezer sleep: light pollution.
A team of South Korean researchers measured levels of outdoor lighting in each of the country’s provinces and found that the brightest nighttime skies corresponded to the highest usage of sleep-inducing drugs among seniors there.
“This study observed a significant association between the intensity of outdoor, artificial, nighttime lighting and the prevalence of insomnia as indicated by hypnotic-agent prescriptions for older adults in South Korea,” lead study author Kyoung-bok Min, PhD, explained in a statement. “Our results are supportive data that outdoor, artificial, nighttime light could be linked to sleep deprivation among those while inside the house.”
I admit that my eagerness to reveal the results of Min’s study had something to do with the fact that it’s not often that I get to test such conclusions in my own mundane life. We had recently returned from a three-night stay at a cabin on Lake Superior’s North Shore, where pitch darkness reigns after sundown.
“How did you sleep at the cabin?” I casually ventured, changing the subject of our dinner conversation rather too abruptly.
“OK,” she replied, cocking a quizzical eye my way. “What brought that up?”
I explained the light-pollution hypothesis and a lively discussion ensued, meandering among the many factors that keep MLW awake at night, none of which seemed to have much to do with the ambient light in our urban neighborhood or the lack of such in the wilderness. Or did it? We were just about to move on to more productive topics when she suggested a beneficial change I could make to my nighttime routine.
“I’d appreciate it if you would pull down the window shade in the bedroom when you go to bed.”