J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Sleep Experiment – A Month With No Artificial Light

In an earlier post, I mentioned how my family (it’s not something you can do without your whole household participating) went without artificial light (including all electric lights, TV, and computers) after sundown, for all of June in 2009.  June, being the month of the longest days, was the easiest month for such an experiment.

“Full of Ideas” by Cayusa

Soon after writing that post, we decided to try the experiment again, but this time for the month of February — a month with much shorter days and longer nights.  I was traveling during the last week of February, so it was effectively only a twenty day experiment.  Still — both the effects and the experience itself were dramatic. In a nutshell: more sleep, better sleep, improved mood, and an entirely different rhythm to both waking and sleeping life.  There were some downsides too, which I’ll also discuss.


The first time we tried the experiment, in June 2009, we were primarily interested in catching up on sleep.  Our daughter was born in March of 2008 — after more than a year a full night’s sleep was still elusive.  As someone who had always been a night-owl at home, but never had any trouble going to sleep by 8:30 when camping, I already suspected that artificial light (as opposed to firelight, starlight, or moonlight) was what was keeping me from going to bed earlier.  Reading this article by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times confirmed that suspicion.

An even earlier, unrelated 30-day experiment (I’ve done over a dozen at this point), during which I resolved and attempted to go to bed earlier, had failed miserably.  On average I’d gotten to bed 45 minutes earlier; say quarter-after-eleven instead of midnight.  I just found it impossible to go to bed when I wasn’t sleepy (which I distinguish from tired — just because your mind and body need sleep doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel sleepy).  Just trying — willing myself — to go to bed earlier didn’t work very well — it certainly didn’t result in the kind of radical sleep improvement I was looking for.

On the other hand, the June experiment with no artificial light was a huge success.  Kia and I immediately started going to bed between 9 and 10 instead of around midnight.  We quickly caught up on sleep, sleeping ten or eleven hours a night at first, then normalizing around eight hours.  One thing we both noticed was a huge boost in mood — moments of unexplained, unreasonable joy would strike us at random times during the day.  I’m not talking about the calm sea of serenity — I’m talking about bursts of goofy delight — the kind that’s really obnoxious to the moody people around you.

So … we wanted to try it again.


Compared to June, February was a whole different ball game.  Some days in June the sky was light until 9:30pm — in February we ended up lighting the candles as early as 5pm.  I was concerned about not being able to get any work done, so we set 7:30pm as a cutoff for computers getting turned off.  Here’s a list of the rules we decided to live by:

  • no artificial light, including overhead lights, lamps, and the refrigerator light
  • candles allowed
  • computers allowed until 7:30pm
  • TV not allowed after sundown (except TV on computers until 7:30)


One thing I experienced during the experiment was anger and frustration at not being able to f*cking see anything.  Stepping on toys on the floor, bumping into table corners, searching for matches by moonlight — none of it fun.  Cooking by candlelight can also be difficult.  After a day or two I gained some awareness around what was happening emotionally.  I did choose to do this, after all.  The key to dealing with the anger was to conduct my actions more carefully, and with more foresight, during the long evenings.  Light the candles before it gets totally dark.  Make sure to light a couple candles in the bathroom.  Be vigilant about cleaning up toys (and getting our daughter to clean up her toys) before it gets dark.

Drip drip drip.

Wax is pollution.  Little wax drips, everywhere, are hard to avoid when you’re walking around (or stumbling over things) while holding a candle.  Scraping hardened wax off of tables and floors is a drag.  Kia was reading a book — it might have been a George Elliot novel, in which people who stay up late are called wax-drippers.  This seems to imply that, at least in pre-Industrial England, most people didn’t even bother lighting candles; they just went to bed when it got dark.

The pollution angle; it made me think about how entire classes of pollution can disappear, practically overnight.  In the horse-and-buggy age, major cities were covered in horse shit.  It was a serious problem, with no end in sight.  Once the car came along, the horse shit vanished.  Wax drippings similarly disappeared as a major problem with the advent of the electric light.  This book review in the New Yorker talks about the same idea in more detail.

If we’d had proper candle-holders with wide bases this problem could have been avoided, or at least attenuated.

Less Productivity
Sometimes getting in a couple hours of work (in the broadest sense, including creative work and “fun” work) after the kid goes to bed can make a day feel more productive.  Feeling productive, while not important for everyone, is important for my own mental well-being.  I don’t really buy into the idea of the Protestant Work Ethic (nobody works harder than Japanese salarymen, and they’re pretty far removed from any Calvinist cultural heritage), but I do feel better at the end of the day if I’ve created wealth, whether it be in the form of billable hours, progress on a music or writing project, fixing up the house — anything with a tangible, observable result that has at least a chance of positively affecting my own (or someone else’s) future experience.

It’s hard to be productive by candlelight.  I took to writing longhand in a notebook, which I’m still doing, but in the evenings I couldn’t work on music production (computer needed), clean the house (more light needed), work on programming projects (computer needed), work on artwork, contracts, or email correspondence for Loöq Records (once again, computer needed), or most anything else that results in feeling like I got something done.

This is more of a wash than a negative.  I didn’t watch any TV during the experiment — there just wasn’t any time.  I like TV — at least good TV — and I missed it somewhat.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t allowed — I could have watched my favorite shows during the day if I’d really made it a priority.

Now that it’s March I’m all caught up on Lost.  Thank you Hulu — the motives of the smoke monster are slowing becoming clear.


Going in, I wasn’t as sleep-deprived this time, but we immediately started going to bed earlier.  Sometimes I would sleep straight through the night, 10 to 6 or so.  Other times I would go to bed really early, like 8:30, and then get up around 2:30am.  This was alarming at first, but then I remembered that this sleep pattern was quite common in pre-electric light days.  When this happened I would end up reading or writing by candlelight for an hour or two, then going back to bed.  This is apparently called bimodal sleep, as noted in the Verlyn Klinkenborg New York Times article where he describes an experiment conducted by sleep researcher Thomas Wehr (Wehr ‘s volunteers have subjected themselves to to 14 hours of darkness each night):

What Wehr found was remarkable. The first night the volunteers slept 11 hours, and in the first weeks of the experiment they repaid 17 hours of accumulated sleep debt — i.e., they slept 17 hours longer than they would have called normal for the same period. It took three weeks for a sleep pattern to stabilize, and when it did it lasted about eight and a quarter hours per night. But it was not consolidated sleep, and it was not just sleep. Over time, Wehr explained, “another state emerged, not sleep, not active wakefulness, but quiet rest with an endocrinology all its own.”

Each night the volunteers lay in a state of quiet rest for two hours before passing abruptly into sleep. They slept in an evening bout that lasted four hours. Then they awoke out of REM sleep into another two hours of quiet rest, followed by another four-hour bout of sleep and another two hours of quiet rest before rising at 8 A.M. This pattern of divided sleep, separated by rest, is called a bimodal distribution of sleep, and it is typical of the sleep of many mammals living in the wild, which is to say that it is atypical of humans living in modern Western society. Yet in a forthcoming article, to be published in a volume called “Progress in Brain Research,” Wehr concludes that “in long nights . . . human sleep resembles that of other mammals to a much greater extent than has been appreciated.” Bimodal sleep, punctuated by quiet rest, was a pattern to which modern Americans reverted almost as soon as they were given the chance.

“In healthy people,” Wehr remarked, “this bimodal pattern of sleep would be called a sleep disorder, although the resemblance to animal sleep confirms its naturalness. And as people get older they revert to this pattern of divided sleep. Perhaps it gets harder to override it.”

I asked Wehr whether any of his subjects had gone crazy lying in the dark during those long nights.

None had. “Anyone could do it,” he said.

In addition to getting enough sleep each night, the quality of my sleep was definitely better.  We’re still co-sleeping with our daughter, now 2, and any restlessness tends to affect me most.  On bad nights I sometimes prefer the couch to our overcrowded bed.  However no couch for the month of February — when I was sleeping, I was out cold.


Our daughter also got on an earlier schedule.  In January she’d gotten in a bad cycle of staying up until 9 — no fun for anyone.  She would get overtired and overstimulated, and falling asleep was getting harder and harder.  Immediately — by Day 1 of the experiment — she was fast asleep by 7.  What a huge relief.

With no artificial light, there is definitely more time in bed, half-awake.  Wehr refers to this state as quiet wakefulness.

Living year-round on midsummer time, with long days and short nights, “has obtained,” Wehr writes, “for so many generations that modern humans no longer realize that they are capable of experiencing a range of alternative modes that may once have occurred on a seasonal basis in prehistoric times but now lie dormant in their physiology.” While humans worry about how much further we can compact our actual sleep time, we’ve already jettisoned six nightly hours of quiet winter rest. In a most meaningful sense, those are transitional hours. Once in the night and once in the early morning, Wehr’s volunteers woke out of REM sleep, which is strongly associated with dreaming, into a period of quiet wakefulness quite distinct from daytime wakefulness. Perhaps as we’ve learned, over time, to sleep a less characteristically mammalian sleep, we’ve also learned to sleep a less human sleep.

Quiet wakefulness is great, especially when you’re not worried about not being asleep.  In other words, if you’ve already slept seven or eight hours (because you went to bed at 9pm), then being awake, or half-awake, in the middle of the night isn’t accompanied by fears of being tired the next day.  In this state, which sometimes persisted for more than an hour, I would let my mind roam … sometimes just watching my dreamlike thoughts, sometimes directing them a bit.  What will a character in my novel do next?  What color should I paint the garage?  It’s a great time to ask your brain questions which require creative answers.

Alternative Activities & Entertainment
During the long, candlelit evenings, without computers or TV, we found other ways to occupy ourselves.  We read by candlelight, we had friends over for after-dinner drinks and snacks, we played board-games, and, well, use your imagination.  The evenings were long and enjoyable.

Adventure Fantasy, Imagining The Past
The experiment gave our evenings an adventurous flavor.  We were roughing it (a little).  I would sometimes imagine we were living in the woods, far from civilization.  The experience made me consider how each generation lives differently, and that with new technologies we both gain and lose certain types of experiences.  It’s valuable to step out of the current technological zeitgeist — it changes the way you think and perceive the world.

The convenience of being able to flip a switch and have instant illumination can’t be overstated.  But the downsides of cheap light may be as serious as the downsides of cheap food.  Artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythms, prevents the production of melatonin, increases the risk of certain cancers including breast cancer and prostate cancer, and can generally wreak havoc with our health.  My guess is that artificial light is causally linked to obesity, depression, immune disorders, and cancer, not to mention daytime tiredness.

Candle time.

After the experiment I see artificial light as something like sugar.  We’re drawn to it, but too much is bad for us.  In fact, it seems to be bad for us in many of the same ways — sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity in the same way excessive sugar intake does.

For me, gone are the nights of having every light in the house blazing.  The refrigerator light is back on, the bathroom light goes on when I’m in there, but otherwise it’s candles and maybe a mood light here and there.  Even with this limited artificial light, the glow from my laptop is keeping me up later.  Last night I slept from 11:45 to 6:15 — not bad but nothing like the solid eight hours I was getting most nights in February (one night I even slept eleven hours — I was tired and there was nothing preventing me from catching up).

I can function with as little as five or six hours of sleep as night.  But with that little sleep (especially for more than one night), I’m not at my best, or my happiest, or my most creative; I’m just grinding through life.  Since the only thing we have in life is quality of our consciousness, and sleep deprivation so obviously and negatively affects the quality of our consciousness, it makes sense to prioritize sleep.  Most people would agree, but almost nobody does dedicate enough time to sleep.  Why?  The ubiquity of artificial light.  It’s like going to a cake store, buying every delicious-looking cake, coming home and arranging them on your dinner table, and then resolving not to eat any sugar.


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  1. I found this so interesting and well written. I may have to conduct a similar experiment myself.

  2. Raj

    Very interesting! Great article. I think I’ll have to experiment with this based on your positive outcomes; though, I feel like my lights are out most of the time.

  3. Mike B

    Makes a lot of sense… which reinforces the idea that our deep self intuitively knows what is best for us.

  4. Brooke

    Fantastic. Fascinating. Beautifully written and amazing to think about. I’m going to start making changes tonight.

  5. godfrey

    Interesting article. We as human beings are so obsessed with turning the lights on when its nots even dark. Every public building you go into have way to many lights on, we are not making the best of our senses in regards to sight when you consider all your other animals have no problem surviving in the dark, but when it gets dark instead putting a light on we put a whole set of lights on. In my opinion artificial lighting does detach ourselves from our spiritual side whereas natural light and darkness enhances our spiritual side, opens the soul and gives us spiritual guidance.

  6. Michael

    “This seems to imply that, at least in pre-Industrial England, most people didn’t even bother lighting candles; they just went to bed when it got dark.”

    Today, goods are cheap and services are expensive, but in former times the opposite was true. Tallow was expensive, and that’s what candles were made from. Therefore people who didn’t have great wealth used to economize on candles as much as possible, and those who were poor didn’t have candles at all. Hence the expression, “not worth the candle”: it means that an action is not justified by the cost of the candle you’d need to light it.

  7. Great short presentation from Jessa Gamble on sleep cycles … “prolactin surge” … “true wakefulness”

  8. Bill

    I went without artificial lights last night. Came home from work… and went straight to bed. Did some reading on my e-reader (white text, black background). Fell asleep at 830pm. Woke up at 240am. Fell back to sleep at 400am. And awoke to go to work at 7am. I felt/feel greeeaaatttt! this morning. I felt so great that I immediately took all of the lightbulbs out of their fixtures and this is how I plan to live well into the future.

    The kicker is… the blatant similarities to this article… I did all of this prior to researching this phenomenon or reading this article. Nonetheless, this article is AWESOME!

  9. Alice

    Did this experiment mean you stayed at home in the evenings on the assumption you’d have no control over artificial light outside of the house? If you’re now living with a much reduced level of artificial light, does it seem excessively bright when you are at other people’s houses in the evenings? How do you cope with that?

  10. We stayed home a lot that month but not to avoid light — just because we have a young child. It’s not a big deal if other people prefer to have lots of lights on and we’re at their house — after all we’re not trying to go to sleep if we’re at a party. And even the brightest home lighting isn’t as bright as sunlight during the day.

    Now that the experiment is over, artificial light is an environmental variable that we’re more aware of. We turn the lights way down a few hours before we want to go to sleep. I think sensitivity to light might be similar to sensitivity to caffeine. Some people can have a cup of coffee and go right to bed (the Dutch apparently do that all the time), while others can’t have caffeine after noon if they want to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. In the same way, some people are probably more sensitive to the effects of artificial light than others.

  11. I have been living in a house without electricity for a while and I used a lot of candles, but the most important thing where oil lamps.

    – They will give a little bit more light than candles but the effect will be the same

    – You have to hang them high, then they spread the light better and you will be able to see more.

    – They will not drip but the oil can be smelly.

    – Since they usually are burning inside a glass cylinder you can walk with them without having them go out

    – There are various kinds, normally they use a piece of cloth to burn, but there are also those who give as much light as a light bulb using some other method I do not know how to describe in english

    It is quite some time ago, but I can not remember how it influenced my sleeping pattern. But I also smoked a lot of weed in those days so it is hard to tell anyway.

  12. Andrea Lemon

    For using your computer at night, try a free app called Flux (http://www.stereopsis.com/flux/). At night it gradually dims and changes the warmth of your computer screen, so that it’s not as aggressively blue as a television screen. In the preferences you can set it to change slowly, and you won’t even notice the transition.

  13. I’ve been using Flux — it’s great.

  14. j

    I am always too lazy to fill out a comment. but i had to on this one. I came accross some research in the past stating that ZERO light, after two days starts to give you visualizations. and after day 13, your brains pineal gland starts to produce DMT (most potent hallucinogen known to mankind.. and its already within us and all other living things)

    anywho, this has to do with the melatonin buildup from being in the dark for so damn long. anyways, essentially its meant to be a fast track to ‘elightenment’ (becoming a shaman) or whatever you want to call it. The way we look at it is ‘jedi training’. lol if you like. but the chemistry makes sense for it to be possible.

    I move to mexico next week to build a sustainable living commuinty and school, and we are going to be building one of these ‘dark room therapies’ as a side project and were gonna give it a whirl ourselves.
    why? No…
    Ask yourself… Why, Not!? 😀
    (a jedi without a lightsaber is stilla jedi :P)

    • Hawko73

      How is it going?
      Just wondering a year on…
      Also, Aren’t our pineal glands virtually ruined these days, and how do you survive 13 days with NO light?

  15. Ray

    Awesome and interesting. I think I’ll give it a 30 day trial. Just need to get more candles

  16. I tried this and it works great, although I do keep my computer running! Other than that, I have loads more energy in winter 🙂

  17. Bill

    Great article!
    Most of what I’d seen before was about using timed bright light — artificial sunlight — to more strongly routinize sleep patterns in support of invariant work schedules.

  18. Excellent writeup and I also enjoyed the comments.

    Two resources:

    F-Lux for Win/OSX/linux, attenuates computer screen brightness and eliminates blue wavelengths on a schedule according to your location.

    Take a Nap! Change Your Life by Dr. Sara Mednick, is a short and useful read with strategies based on her research at the Salk Institute. This was a welcome gift from a friend and I found it easy to implement her suggestions.

  19. Hi J.D.! I work for the CBS talk show The Doctors. We are interested in having you on our show next week to discuss this experiment you did. I’d love to chat with you some more about it. You can email me at [email protected]. Thanks!

  20. Lisa

    I think this “quiet rest” time you discussed explains why I especially cherish weekend mornings. I wake at my regular time, tend to some tasks for an hour or two, then often I go back to bed and just lay there quietly for a few hours. I may or may not go back to sleep, but these are the most restful, wonderful and rejuvenating hours of my entire week. I equate the first 5-6 hours to the first part of a more natural sleep cycle (often I go to sleep at 10/11 and get up at 4), then my “morning” would represent the middle of the night and the few hours quiet time after waking from the first sleep interval. So, in a more natural pattern (or on the weekends) I would likely go back to sleep (and I often do). The quest for how to go to sleep earlier still eludes me, as there is so much to do every day…but I’ll find a way.

    It is getting lighter in the evenings (especially with DST, a whole other issue for my sleep patterns). I still need more candles and to convince my stay-up-until-3-am husband to get on board with the idea, but I want to give this experiment a real go in April. I tried it on a single night last week…and yes, I can verify that it is extremely difficult to cook and do dishes by candlelight. I’m just happy to have all ten fingers remaining. Unfortunately, those activities took twice as long as usual because of the reduced ability to find and do things, so that made my bedtime even later. Two candles was definitely not enough. Additionally, I misplaced my cell phone, which put an early end to the experiment as finding it with a small candle was impossible.

    However, I learned a lot in those 4-5 hours and I will apply that knowledge and prepare better for the real thing (have a place designated for your cell phone and keys for certain). I also wondered about little amounts of artificial light in your experiment, such as the LED’s on printers and clock backlights etc. Did you take those into account, or is the light level so low that you did not worry about it? Lastly, what about light coming in from other sources like street lamps or the neighbor’s porch lights/backyard lights? Did you draw drapes or close blinds or anything? Also, if the husband is not on board with cutting off computer time (I think it will be impossible to get him to shut off his computer/iPad/phone for any reason, so I’m already preparing for that), it probably would still work for me as long as I did not look at his screen? Or maybe I need to be in a separate room that is “off limits” for those devices? Your thoughts?

    I think you are right about the sensitivity of different people to artificial light, (my husband seems unaffected by it at all, as he plays games and reads on his iPad with all the lights in the house on until he drifts off to sleep,) and most definitely, about how our current sleep patterns affect obesity, depression, etc. Outside of sleep and nutrition, I believe few daily things affect us more chronically or severely. The fact that many of us have some measure of control over these circumstances is also encouraging, though. I am seeing both mentioned more in the general media, so maybe people will start experimenting more and adopting healthier patterns of both. I think that sleep also affects eating patterns. I find that on weekends or times I get plenty of rest, I can eat 1 meal per day and not feel hungry at all. Fasting (I already practice IF pretty regularly at 16-18 hour intervals at least 3-4 times per week,) is even easier and more natural with plenty of rest. An observation I think that you made when you talked about sleep and insulin resistance and that they have also inversely correlated with ghrelin levels.

    Thank you for all your thoughtful insight and research on such a breadth of topics. I’ve never been one to read blogs, but I find yours especially well-written and balanced.

    • I find that ambient computer light in the same room is enough to prevent me from getting sleepy (even if I’m not looking at the computer). Red LED’s on the other hand weren’t a problem. Blue wavelength light is especially effective at disrupting melatonin production (red not so much).


      I would suggest checking out f.lux

      • Lisa

        Thank you. Solved the problem by moving our sleeping area into the upstairs “spare” bedroom, where no electronic devices exist, nor will be allowed (at least for the time being). Counting down the days…

      • I’m not doubting you, but can you help me out with this? Something that is blue – a blue shirt, for example – reflects blue wavelength light, right? That’s why it’s blue?

        If that’s the case, why have I always heard that blue is such a calming color and you should paint your bedroom blue, etc.? Do I have the reflection/absorption thing backwards?

    • Hi Lisa your post really made me chuckle thank you…glad u have ur ten fingers remaining and found ur cell phone! 😉

  21. I just wanted to say thankyou for this article. I moved hemispheres 8 years ago and have not had a decent night of sleep in that time. I was always a night owl and always knew I had to improve my sleeping patterns.

    Very very interesting. Convincing the family will be another matter, but at least it gives me hope.

  22. George

    I found this article absolutely absorbing. It makes you wonder–do many of our modern-day illnesses such as depression and obesity have a link with our not sleeping as our physiology demands?

    If you don’t mind my asking, how long into the experiment did you begin to get those “spontaneous moments of goofy delight”?

  23. Adam

    Hi JD,

    Just wanted to say thanks for this. I have a query if you do not mind.
    Why is candle light OK and artificial light not? Does the light from the candle not suppress melatonin aswell?

    I ask because trying this experiment myself, I am unsure as to whether to cut off all light (as in the Wehr experiment), or allow candle light :).


  24. Dave Kinsella

    You said “I don’t really buy into the idea of the Protestant Work Ethic (nobody works harder than Japanese salarymen, and they’re pretty far removed from any Calvinist cultural heritage)”

    I thought about this. Being from Ireland and having converted from Catholicism to Evangelicalism I had heard this from one of my friends. He believes that the reason Ireland was suppressed and England was so successful was the Protestant work ethic. As a young and ignorant guy I didn’t have much of an opinion, but it offended me, even though he is Irish himself.

    I thought about the injustices that the English placed upon us and the rest of the world. Especially by their hero Oliver Cromwell (that “man of God” who’s name was a curse word in this country for many generations). No need for details here. I was going to post this on my facebook, but then I remembered the Amish. I lived in an Amish-Mennonite community with my family for over 3 years. I don’t know about the Japanese but I never saw any people work as hard or efficiently as they. And they are non-violent, which means they earn everything they own by the sweat of their own brow and not somebody else’s.

    • I’m descended from Indiana Mennonites on my father’s side. I simply meant that Protestants don’t have a monopoly on the value of hard work.

      Some cultures value work a bit more, others value play and quality of life a bit more. That’s one lens through which to view the mess Europe is in right now — the north doesn’t think the south works hard enough.

  25. Nicole

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS!!! citing this earned part of my grade in a term paper study on socio-economics of light pollution

  26. wonderful post. i really appreciate your carefully considered and carefully written offerings. yours, a night owl …

  27. Hi Guys,
    you can try a carbon filament lamp. The light from this lamp is very warm like wood fire but not very energy efficient.

  28. Ann Pettus

    In December, I spent 5 days/nights alone in the desert. Had been concerned about how to get through the presumed boring long nights. I did enjoy sitting out under the stars for an hour or so, once the sundown-winds had died down, but then, starting around 7 pm, I slept the nights through!

    Mentioning it afterwards to my brother, who as an archaeologist spends lots of time out there, he confirmed frequently seeing this reversion to natural rhythms .

    If I’m backpacking with others, the tendency is usually to sit around a campfire and talk till we’re about to drop from tiredness. I now see this might not be as necessary as campers seem to think!

  29. John Kojis

    We’re looking to begin a similar experiment when DST kicks in next weekend. Two questions: What about house lights in the morning? Shaving and other grooming might be scary without them, but maybe not. And what about the radio or recorded music in the evening? It’s not a light issue, wondering what you did there. Thanks for the thoughtful post and the great idea!

    • We used lights as needed during the day … no restrictions there. Can’t think of any issue with radio or music unless your gear has bright indicator lights. If so just tape them over. Good luck with your experiment!

  30. Kirstin

    I use an app for my computer that filters out the blue light. I have also tried blu Blocker glasses. Both of these light modifiers have made huge difference in my sleepiness at night. I find myself much more able to sleep earlier and I sleep much more restfully than if I do not use them.

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  32. patrick

    jd: what about the pollution via candles? ie. smoke inhalation

    • We were generally using non-paraffin, unscented candles, so fewer chemical concerns, but undoubtedly indoor air quality took a drop (even with windows open). Honestly it’s difficult to read (or do anything) by candlelight, so the candles weren’t lit for hours on end; we went to sleep much earlier.

  33. Melissa

    I think this is a very interesting idea. Got any advice on getting the family on board?. I am so constantly exhausted, I am willing to try anything for a few weeks. In October, it starts getting dark fairly early-7pm at the beginning of the month, 6pm by the end, but my son has taekwondo from 7:30-8:30 3 nights a week. Can I still make this work?

    • You could try any variation you wanted to … maybe you could get your family to agree to lights out by 9 or 10pm?

      • Melissa

        I think I’ll probably do screens off at 7, lights out at 8 at home, and go from there. Thanks for the really interesting post!

  34. Trisha

    Surprisingly, no where do I see any comments regarding SAD, which I suffer from, from about late Sep to early Jan. I live in UK timings may be different in other parts of the world. This causes not just increasing lethargy and depression, not being able to cope with things (I shop for Christmas in August or before, plus write cards out, etc) but physical symptoms too. Headaches, muscle ache, throbbing limbs, throwing up every morning, etc. Fortunately, I am self employed as an textile artist/designer and tutor, so can limit work at this time of the year – being a married woman helps as we have two incomes, so can afford to lose some of mine for a few months. I am told by doc that its to do with the hypothalmus and melatonin. Most modern humans are adapted to function reasonally well in artificial light, melatonin (the hormone produced a couple of hours before sleep) is held at bay by that artificial light, to a lesser or greater effect. In those that suffer from SAD, artificial light does not have that effect, the menatonin (which enduces sleep) switches on a couple of hours before darkness, even if that darkness is at 4 in the afternoon, as it is before Christmas here! The effect of staying awake against the grain, scientists now say, causes SAD. Light boxes have the right type of light to suppress this – but can’t be used if you’ve ever had an eye operation – as I have. This winter, I’m trying a new device from Finland (where SAD is a huge problem, days can be only a few hours long and they have very long winters. I discovered a new device called a Valkee, developed through scientists at a Finnish university – the light goes through headphones into the eyes, straight to the brain, avoiding eye damage. I live in hope that this will work, as I dread that annual illness – both mental and physical, it tears me apart.

    • Lower carbohydrate intake in winter and SAD goes. You can take carb consumption to 0 until signs of SAD disappear and than increase it until signs of SAD reappear, to know where your threshold is.

  35. tabby2shoes

    Sorry, that should have read – goes through headphones into the EARS, not eyes!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, and good luck with the headphone treatment. And maybe an equatorial Christmas some year?

  36. oznozz

    This is a great life experiment. I actually did something similar, albeit unintentionally, on a long road trip where I spent most of nights camping. Usually, I am notorious for being someone that goes to sleep in the early AM and has difficulty waking up, but camping (except in more commercialized sites) completely changed my schedule and sleep quality (paradoxically, an old sleeping bag in the wilderness seems better than an expensive foam mattress), until I returned to apartment living with artificial light.

    In another era of my life, I spent a couple years studying sleep in rodents, and came up with similar observations concerning the state of modern sleep. Rodents sleep very differently from humans, which raised in my mind the obvious question of how relevant rodent-based research findings are for humans (depending on the specifics of the interpretation, they are relevant). Somewhere, I have a facinating ~50 page research article that summarizes the casual observations of a collection of anthropologists that engaged in field work with non-Western societies as well as historical observations in the years before electric light.

  37. Chris

    i have shared your article several times, and re-read it each time. a friend just shared a related article, so i thought i’d share it with you. (hope it’s not redundant…i didn’t read all the comments.) anyway, thanks for en*light*ening me on this subject!! http://disinfo.com/2013/08/how-our-ancestors-used-to-sleep-twice-a-night-and-highlighting-the-problem-of-present-shock/

  38. All those years of wondering why I need a good 3-4 hrs to feel fully awake- resolved! Its just my quiet wakefulness. Im not a freak…! Phew.

  39. DC

    Nice experiment, but I don’t see how it supports the claimed link between artificial light and so many “modern” problems. For one thing, I use artificial light without any restrictions and I still sleep from 10pm to 7am. It’s more about the habits one has and less about light/no light. Sure, no light forces one to change existing habits so in this sense it helps. But that’s quite all really.

  40. Dalton

    This really made sense to me and I wanted to get candles and try it until I realized…

    School -_-

  41. Tim

    To fix your laptops blue glow just get F.lux


    You can also wear UVEX blue blocking plastic eye wear to block out blue and some green light.

  42. I recently downloaded a program called f.lux into my computer. It modulates the colour temperature of your screen light so it’s more consistent with the light level outside. After dark, for example, the bright bluish glow of my screen becomes a warm sunset pink.

    It’s not great if you’re doing colour sensitive work (Iike Photoshop), but there’s an option to turn it off for an hour or until sunrise. I’ve found it helps prevent eye fatigue when I’m working late at night (which I love to do), and I do seem to sleep better.

    Of course, there’s quite a bit of research that suggests we should be turning off all our screens an hour before bed, but f.lux could be a good median solution for those of us who lack the discipline to do that or who love reading blogs late at night or watching computer tv before bed.

  43. S

    OK, I gotta ask, how did you manage to fall asleep once you were in bed? I was lying in the dark until 5am. It’s unbelievably boring and actually kinda depressing. What’s your secret?

    • Even with zero electric light It might take a few days for your circadian rhythm to normalize if you’re on an extremely late cycle. In the winter version of the experiment I generally was in the “quiet wakefulness” state for a couple hours — less in the summer. Sometimes I did feel bored for awhile but this usually passed as I let my mind wander, or sometimes meditated. Keep at it for a few days and feel free to report back!

  44. This is a comparison of a computer monitor without, and with, f.lux running (page down): http://ledmuseum.candlepower.us/specx333.htm

    It’ll depend on your particular monitor, but f.lux changes the balance it doesn’t remove the blue end — it makes the light look warmer.

    Look for “turtle safe” lights — amber LEDs — for a no-blue-light solution.
    Or get theatrical gel filter material — costs about $7 for a 22×24″ piece. Medium amber and orange block below 500nm, and touchscreens work right through the film if you put it on an iphone or old type PDA. We tape it along the top of our computer screens — flip back for daytime, flip over the screen for nighttime. You get used to the color shift even if you’re watching movies.

    Just don’t knit or match fabric colors under the amber light …

  45. Heather

    Do you suppose artificial candles would be a good substitute? I would be worried about burning the house down! I wonder if I should be more concerned about intensity (lumens) or just color (red or amber)

  46. Hi guys, I am a new mother and I am trying to get my two month son to sleep longer during night. Right now I’m lucky to get three hours rest per night. Bless

  47. How are candles not artificial light?

  48. Wow loved this article, so well written, especially enjoyed your comment re quality of consciousness being what life is all about and can be simply improved with more sleep, yet why don’t we all do this? That’s right, artificial light is handed to us on a silver platter, it’s hard to say no (like sugar)…I have been using more candlelight in evenings and can already notice a difference in my mood and relaxation before bed…I think it allows me to stay up in a relaxed state rather than stressed state, and thus quality of sleep and hormonal rhythms are better and more balanced as a result.

  49. Melissa

    Do you find your hyper-sensitive to light now post-experiment? I’d be worried switching back to my “regular” schedule would really be harsh on the eyes. Here is a really interesting study too on how bad light is…even for BLIND subjects: https://www.axonoptics.com/2016/02/study-shows-light-triggers-migraine-pain-even-in-blind-subjects/

    • No, I didn’t develop any oversensitivity. Maybe that might have happened with total light deprivation, but my daylight exposure was normal both times I did the experiment.

  50. I’m really interested in trying this, but I don’t know if it’s possible to get my husband on board. I wonder if a kerosene lantern or lamp would help with the wax problem? My family used to use them when camping and they gave off great light and were portable without being messy. Unless the light from those would be too bright to be considered “natural”?

  51. Marie

    Very interesting read, thank you! I was wondering if you also prioritized getting natural sunlight during the day by being outdoors and if so, how much and did this help in addition? And what are your thoughts on modern day technology that promises to help you sleep such as blue light blocking glasses and using only red/amber lighting at night? Similar to other commenters, I don’t think I would be able to get my family on board to use candles exclusively at night. What would be some good alternatives?

    • Hi Marie. We didn’t necessarily prioritize getting more natural sunlight during the day, but we did anyway simply because we were up earlier (so especially when we were doing the experiment during the summer, we didn’t miss any early morning light).

      I do think it’s a continuum of brightness and color wavelength that influences melatonin synthesis and sleep, so yes — technology like f.lux and blue light blocking glasses can help. So can greatly dimming lights in the evening — using only low-brightness, warm-toned lamps and turning off the bright overheads (and turning off computers and TV well before bed). That’s what our family does now, and it makes a big difference.

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