“It was a dark and stormy night”, Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote to start his novel Paul Clifford, in 1830. This famous beginning became more popular after it was repeatedly taken by Snoopy, turning into a classic of literature. Actually, most of the civilizations who developed thousand of years ago, used that kind of scenario to picture the birth of the world. Not with the very same words, of course.
The night has always been associated with a condition which anticipates the existence of things itself. We know the Bible version of the creation, with God saying “let there be light”, but every culture basically followed the same pattern: from darkness, chaos and irrationality to brightness, order and rationality, making mental and physical enlightenment coincide.
According to the Mayans, only the divine ancestors could enjoy the light, while the rest of the world, before its genesis, was a pitch black expanse of sky and water. Similarly, the Chinese thought that the world was an indistinct mass, like an egg where Pangu was growing up. Then, he became the first living being who, being tired of chaos and non-separation of night and day, decided to break the shell: the lighter parts turned into the sky, the heavier into the Earth.
And so on, from Persia to Scandinavia, from Mexico to Greece, where Nyx was one of the most ancient gods, an intermediary between the obscure forces of chaos and the ones of light and order. We owe her the name “night” itself, as Νύξ was translated into Nox by the Latins, then inflected in the modern European languages (notte, night, nuit, nacht, noche).
In ancient Greece, the night had a double meaning. It was feared, because of the dangers that can hide in the darkness; but also expected to rest and refresh the body and the spirit. Despite the similarity between sleep and death, that was the right time to forget troubles and worries of the day.
We also say that night brings counsel, scientific studies confirm popular wisdom. While sleeping, the brain is still active and it enhances its functionality. During deep sleep useless data accumulated gets deleted and information is recalibrated in a simpler way. Just like when we defragment the computer to optimize memory and free space. That’s why we make better reasoning with a fresh mind. As the Danish neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard said, it’s like hosting and entertaining guests at home during the day and make the cleaning at night.
Besides the fear of the creatures concealing in the darkness or psycho-physical rest, the night recalls other expectations. According to our irrational side, this portion of the day is a source of inspiration, freedom or leisure. Although is not strictly worshipped, the night has a particular significance that daytime hasn’t. On the contrary, diurnal hours carry the weight of the workplace routine.
Without the night, artistic productions would be drastically reduced. We can’t count poems, books, songs, novels, movies, paintings, dedicated to nocturnal mysteries and fascination or realized during those times which are quiet, silent, intimate and thoughtful – and fresher in summer.
A research conducted by the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan, night persons are more creative, especially for the tendency to see the world from particular and unconventional points of view. On the other hand, morning persons excel on academic studies.
There is a downside, though. Humans are supposed to be diurnal animals, so being awake at night worsen the level of cholesterol, triglyceride and body mass, as the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reports. This study says that less exposure to solar light can affect the bones capacity to fix calcium.
Among the large amount of quotes and aphorisms about the night, the English/Bulgarian (with German passport) writer Elias Canetti wrote “the days are distinct, but the night has only one name”.