Kyba, C.C.M.; Pritchard, S.B.; Ekirch, A.R.; Eldridge, A.; Jechow, A.; Preiser, C.; Kunz, D.; Henckel, D.; Hölker, F.; Barentine, J.; Berge, J.; Meier, J.; Gwiazdzinski, L.; Spitschan, M.; Milan, M.; Bach, S.; Schroer, S.; Straw, W. Night Matters—Why the Interdisciplinary Field of “Night Studies” Is Needed. J 2020, 3, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.3390/j3010001
The night has historically been neglected in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. To some extent, this is not surprising, given the diurnal bias of human researchers and the difficulty of performing work at night. The night is, however, a critical element of biological, chemical, physical, and social systems on Earth. Moreover, research into social issues such as inequality, demographic changes, and the transition to a sustainable economy will be compromised if the night is not considered. Recent years, however, have seen a surge in research into the night. We argue that “night studies” is on the cusp of coming into its own as an interdisciplinary field, and that when it does, the field will consider questions that disciplinary researchers have not yet thought to ask.
Extract only, full study available at https://www.mdpi.com/2571-8800/3/1/1/htm
The challenges facing our planet and humanity during this century often have direct and indirect connections to the night that must not be overlooked. There is, therefore, a pressing need for interdisciplinary research into the night to come of age, expanding into a recognized field, because the night matters.
A pressing “nighttime” problem, for example, is growing concern over mismatches between social and biological time in humans. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded for the discovery of the molecular mechanisms in nearly all living organisms that govern circadian rhythms, ranging from activity patterns to blood pressure. The timing of many common human behaviors is often no longer aligned with these biological clocks, and there is ample concern that widespread insufficient or ineffective sleep  is detrimental to health. Sleep, however, is not simply a medical issue that can be isolated from broader social, cultural, and economic change. There are complex causes of changes in human sleep patterns over the past 150 years . The development and expansion of artificial light at night has played a central role, with most cities now brightly illuminated [8,9]. Beyond lighting, factors such as incessant processes in industrial plants, connectivity across time zones, provision of 24/7 services including energy, security, and health care, and the possibility of constant technological connectivity in both professional and personal domains have expanded many human activities beyond previous temporal limits (e.g., ).Extending the hours of labor for non-essential services, to take but one example, both reflects and reinforces industrial capitalism . Nighttime shifts that enable factories to raise profits for shareholders often pay more than equivalent day shifts. This financial incentive, in turn, often attracts workers who are economically marginal including many women, people of color, and immigrants. Despite increased compensation, the nighttime economy may end up worsening social and economic inequality and magnifying environmental injustice, for instance, if these groups end up suffering from higher rates of disease and poorer health. There are also social costs due to incongruities between the schedule of workers and those of their families. One may question whether night economies really raise local revenue, once sleep deficits and the healthcare costs of night shift workers are also considered. This example demonstrates how night is an “interdisciplinary object”; physical and social processes at night—circadian rhythms, capitalism, education, race, gender, security, mobility, public lighting, and inequality—are entangled in complex and sometimes unexpected ways.
Failing to consider the full interdisciplinary context of night has already affected real-world situations. Consider the recent replacement of outdoor lighting in Rome in 2017 . The city’s lighting transition was undertaken within the frame of energy consumption and cost, and resulted in the replacement of existing warm color lamps with “colder” white LED lighting. Missing from consideration in the policy decision were public expectations and the cultural meaning of urban light, as well as the negative environmental side effects of broad spectrum (white) light . As a result, residents and tourists had strong negative reactions to the light, arguing that the ancient city should not be lit with cold, harsh white lighting . In addition, in trying to address one environmental problem (climate change), Rome may have worsened another (light pollution) in the process.
The night has experienced major changes in recent decades, and the pace of change is unlikely to slow down. While research into the night has expanded greatly in recent years, we believe that further networking and institutionalization is urgently needed. In order to develop into a recognized interdisciplinary field, night studies will need to see the establishment of journals, conference series, dedicated funding lines, research institutes, and university departments offering programs of study. If the field develops as we hope it will, perhaps it may eventually become recognized by the Greek term “nyctology”: the study of night matters.
Note that another opinion on the “science of the night” with a different focus was recently published by Michele Acuto . We agree strongly with Michele Acuto, and encourage readers to also read his piece. This manuscript was drafted independently over a period of in-person and online meetings spanning from 2017–2019, without any correspondence with Michele Acuto. https://www.mdpi.com/2571-8800/3/1/1/htm
We need a science of the night
Understanding what happens in cities after sunset is crucial to global sustainable development, argues Michele Acuto.