Open window showing a blue skyOur upstairs air conditioner stopped working one Friday evening in late May. I almost called the repair guy but held off. Waiting until Monday meant a cheaper bill instead of rates at time and a half. And I knew we’d sleep comfortably over the weekend if we opened the windows since temperatures still hovered around the mid-sixties at night.

My wife and I have dark curtains in our bedroom. Years ago we’d read that people slept deeper if a bedroom was pitch black, so we’d hung heavy curtains to block the occasional light of a full moon. But on this particular weekend we left the curtains open for better airflow from the outside.

I’m an early riser. Not that it’s natural for me, but because I’d rather wake to take a few steps toward my life goals in the quiet morning hours before a thousand daily distractions shred my focus. I’ll sometimes give myself an extra hour on the weekends, but even then, extracting my body from a cozy bed requires sheer mental force. At least it did before this particular weekend.

Waking to pre-sunrise light filtering into our room with an accompaniment of chirping birds, all before our alarm buzzed, had a profound effect on the way I felt. Before, closed windows and thick curtains had not only blocked light, but had muted the forgotten morning sounds of nature. Now, after a great night’s sleep with the windows open, I felt more rested, a greater sense of peace, and even more limber as I slid from the bed to the floor.

I’ve always valued nature and its positive effect on my mood, but waking each day that weekend with newfound energy and alertness revealed that we’d inadvertently shut nature out of our nocturnal life. Fresh air and the comforting night music of wind through trees and crickets had helped me sleep much better. Then to wake to nature’s alarm clock of chirping birds and gentle light made me feel much more alert when opening my eyes than I ever did to an intrusive man-made buzzer.

Some experts believe a twenty minute walk in nature every day will accomplish more than years of therapy. And nature is also abundant and free. Can open windows and curtains that welcome nature into the bedroom work better than the best sleeping pills humans can invent? I believe so. And nature comes with no groggy side effects in the morning when it’s time to face the day.

When summer arrived and night temperatures shot higher, we could no longer leave the windows open because restful sleep does not happen for us in a sweltering bedroom. I struggle with that reality. But we have started leaving the curtains open so morning light can nudge us awake. And I plan to experiment with an alarm clock that wakes me to chirping birds and a gradual brightening light for when the sun comes up later in the winter. I hope my brain won’t know the difference. But I will miss the crickets and fresh air. Come fall, then spring again, however, the windows in our house will open wide to let nature spill in.

 

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