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Play now 45 mins

Night: friend or foe?

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 11 February 2012

Do we manipulate the darkness, or does it manipulate us?

Oxford Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, Russell Foster, explains his research which shows how the blue-tinged sky of dusk is a trigger that tells our bodies it's time to prepare for bed.

And why it would be good for us to go back to rising with the dawn and going to bed at sundown.

Rut Blees Luxemburg finds surprising richness of night-time colours in her photographs, and historian Craig Koslofsky shows how early modern Europeans first colonised the night by introducing street lighting.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: conquering our body clocks with light - bringing progress or tyranny?


4 items
  • Russell Foster

    Russell Foster

    Oxford neuroscientist Russell Foster argues that too much time awake at night permanently de-synchronises our biological clocks: even after 20 years of nightshifts our bodies can’t adapt to a new circadian rhythm and we end up with permanent jetlag as well as increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Foster’s latest research is bringing new insights into sleep disruption and mental health.

  • Rut Blees Luxemburg

    Rut Blees Luxemburg

    German photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg says that the long exposures she uses during the night allow her to find a vibrant palette in the darkest of hours. Composing nocturnal landscapes in the city, she finds the hours after dark full of creativity and poetry.

  • Rut Blees Luxemburg - Viewing The Open

    Rut Blees Luxemburg - Viewing The Open

    "Viewing the Open / Das Offene Schauen" 1999
    © Rut Blees Luxemburg

  • Craig Koslofsky

    Craig Koslofsky

    How do you separate darkness from the night? Historian at the University of Illinois, Craig Koslofsky, argues that the installation of street lighting in 17th Century Europe not only restructured daily lives of city dwellers but also turned night into a time for respectable work and entertainment.

    Koslofsky: Evening's Empire
  • Sixty Second Idea to Change the World

    Time to get up or an extra five minutes’ snooze? Russell Foster says there are biological reasons for teenagers to have a lie in: it’s not laziness that keeps them in bed but their circadian rhythms. He suggests that secondary school should start at 10am; this has already been tried in the north of England, bringing exam results up and truancy down.

  • In Next Week’s Programme

    As paparazzi crowd around the catwalks of London Fashion Week, anthropologist Danny Miller explores our identity through blue jeans, Sonnet Stanfill, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, discusses her latest exhibit on ball gowns, and designer Folake Folarin-Coker explains how she transformed the world of Nigerian fashion.


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