Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Health benefits of dark skies

Today’s blog comes from Senior Marketing Specialist Sarah McMichael.

My most memorable camping memory didn’t come from a roaring campfire, a scenic overlook, or a stunning sandy beach.

It happened at 3:00 am in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

As I was leaving my tent to go to the bathroom late at night, I noticed something different in the sky above me. There were stars.

Many stars.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars at once.

Lake Superior Rabbit Blanket Lake StarscapePhoto: Paula Trus

At that moment, a sense of awe came over me at the pristine darkness of the sky and the seemingly endless kaleidoscope of celestial objects above me.

I couldn’t look away.

There is nothing like the feeling of contemplating a sensational starry sky. But beyond our positive feelings, dark skies are good for the health of humans, animals, and the environment alike.

Let’s look at some of the health benefits of dark skies:

Human health benefits

We’ve all seen the familiar ambient glow of city lights along the horizon. It’s called light pollution and it’s caused by artificial lights in urban centers that fill normally dark night skies with light.

Illuminated tent in the trees at night

When we move away from the cities and into natural spaces such as provincial parks, the skies become much darker. This is good for our health for several reasons.

Over millions of years on Earth, the human body has evolved experiencing light during the day and darkness at night. This is also known as the clock or circadian rhythm.

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This clock affects our physiology in many ways, including sleep patterns, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, and body temperature.

Having an irregular circadian clock has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, including sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.

Three men sit around a campfire on a rock

Have you ever noticed that you sleep better when camping? This is because at night we are exposed to more darkness.

Exposure to artificial light at night disrupts the circadian clock, while darkness resets it. When we camp, the darkness of the park helps our circadian clock function more naturally. A better circadian clock means better sleep, which contributes to better overall health.

When we sleep, we produce melatonin. It is a cancer-fighting chemical and is produced best in the dark. Some studies are starting to see connections between light pollution and cancer rates.

It’s not only good for us!

Darkness is also important for the survival of many other species.

northern saw-whet owlnorthern saw-whet owl

Many species have evolved to rely on uninterrupted periods of darkness during the night. For example, nocturnal animals such as bats, wolves, and owls depend on darkness to survive.

Seasonal changes in the length of darkness at night help plants prepare for spring and fall. They also provide important signals to other animals that trigger events such as amphibian reproduction and bird migration.

Protecting darkness is key to ecological integrity. When we have ecological integrity, we have a healthy environment, which supports a healthy population and a healthy economy.

The dark sky preserves

Provincial parks have great potential to protect the dark sky. This is because most of the land within Ontario parks is protected from development.

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Killarney Stars

In 2018, Ontario Parks protected two parks as Dark Sky Preserves: Killarney Provincial Park and Lake Superior Provincial Park. This designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada means that these sites are focused on the preservation and protection of the night sky.

More recently, in 2021, Quetico Provincial Park became an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. The application process was no small feat. Read our blog about their trip here.

Provincial parks are the perfect places to experience the natural splendor of dark skies.

Learn more about the astronomical views of Ontario parks here.