Stars have inspired us since the first human beings looked up. Remember the joy of lying out under the night sky as a kid? It turns out stargazing isn’t just for fun—there are wellness benefits, too. Looking at the night sky can increase humility, develop connectedness, lower stress, improve sleep, and enhance imagination.
Health Benefit of Stargazing #1: Increases Humility
Watching the stars has long been one of man’s pastimes. It inspires awe and wonder, as we realize how little we know about this vast universe. There are an estimated 200 billion trillion stars in the universe—an astounding number that most of us can’t even conceptualize. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth. And the fact that the light from stars takes years to reach us is mind-boggling.
One of the (mental) health benefits of stargazing is that the cosmos remind us that our problems are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Not in the sense that our struggles are trivial, but in that we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves. Humility doesn’t mean having a low opinion of yourself; it means recognizing that you aren’t the center of the universe. Many religions see the stars as the handiwork of the God who made us, and many cultures see the stars as a reflection of their ancestors. It’s hard not to be humble and reverent looking up at the sheer vastness of a clear night sky.
Health Benefit of Stargazing #2: Develops Connectedness
The stars we see on any given night depend on the time, season, latitude, and weather. Anyone in your latitude and time zone can see the same stars you do. For example, even though Lexington, Kentucky, is almost 400 miles from my home in Lexington, Virginia, we can see the same stars simultaneously on a clear night. And because friends in San Francisco are in the same latitude, they can, too, although not until three hours later because of the time difference.
These same stars have been observed for centuries; our ancestors saw the same ones we do. Because they are regular and predictable, they’ve guided travelers across oceans and deserts. The stars are the same now as they were thousands of years ago. Sharing the night sky with others connects us all in a unique way and is one of the greatest emotional health benefits of stargazing.
Health Benefit of Stargazing #3: Reduces Stress Levels
Everyone knows stress is bad for our health; we just don’t always know what to do about it. One of the greatest health benefits of stargazing is how it helps us lower stress. We gradually let go of the noise, distraction, and busyness of the day and embrace the quiet, peaceful stillness of the night. Stress hormone levels decline. Within minutes, blood pressure goes down and stays down for hours afterward. Heart rate decreases, breathing slows, and muscle tension loosens. We become calm and less anxious, able to put our stressors in perspective.
Being outside in nature has been shown to improve multiple health concerns, including obesity, hypertension, depression, and anxiety, as well as boost memory and cardiovascular health.
Health Benefit of Stargazing #4: Improves Sleep
We often lie down to sleep at night only to find our thoughts racing like hamsters on a wheel. After a calm evening admiring the constellations, it’s much easier to quiet those restless thoughts. And because we’ve lowered our stress, blood pressure, and heart rate, we’re more likely not only to fall asleep easier but to stay asleep until morning.
Another one of the health benefits of stargazing is how it helps us regulate our circadian rhythms. During the day, light signals our bodies to be awake and alert while tamping down sleep hormones. As darkness falls and bedtime approaches, hormones like melatonin increase and promote sleep. Or at least they’re supposed to. In the modern world, where we visit brightly lit shops and recreational facilities or watch TV or read until all hours of the night, we can develop sleep-wake cycle problems, and our bodies become confused about when exactly we’re supposed to sleep.
Enjoying time under a starry sky instead of indoor artificial lights helps reset the cycle. Google “starlight and sleep,” and you’ll find dozens of products that take advantage of this concept. Why not save your money and just go outside?
Health Benefit of Stargazing #5: Boosts Imagination
Most of us don’t give the constellations much thought. But who named them? And when? Have they always been there? Many were described by the second-century Greeks, who named them based on the picture patterns they formed in the sky—much like how we say, “That cloud looks like a turtle!” Hence, we have many constellations titled after Greek mythological figures, like Perseus and Orion.
And, just like the stars inspired the Greeks, they can inspire us too. Watching the night sky clears the mind to focus. The activity of the day dissolves into the stillness of the night. Distractions fade, and the silence allows buried thoughts and ideas to poke through. Consider Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting “The Starry Night” and Anne Sexton’s poem of the same name. Take a notebook when you go out to be sure you can jot down any ideas that come to you.
How to Make the Most of the Health Benefits of Stargazing
There are several tips and tricks that can make your stargazing experience as perfect as possible.
First, remember that you can see objects in the sky best on cold, crisp, moonless nights since both clouds or humid haze of summer can obscure the sky. Pick a clear night if possible.
And although the stars can be appreciated anywhere, it’s harder where there is a lot of ambient light. Bright light, even moonlight, constricts your eyes and makes it harder to see the fainter objects in the sky.
If you can watch from a rural area away from city lights, that’s ideal. If you’re in a city, find the darkest place you can and go as high as possible—above streetlights and building signs. If you’re in a neighborhood, turn off all your inside and outside lights, and go to a spot out of range of your neighbor’s lights. No matter where you are, look around to be sure you are in a safe location.
Dress comfortably for the weather and take a blanket or secure chair so you can look up without straining your neck. Be patient—it can take your eyes 20-30 minutes to adjust to the darkness. The longer you watch, the more you’ll see.
Do a little reading beforehand so you know what to expect on the night you’ve chosen. You can Google the night sky by date and location or use an app or sky chart. Remember, there is a lot to see besides stars: planets, constellations, galaxies like the Milky Way and Andromeda, comets, and meteors. Knowing what’s in the sky makes it easier to appreciate, and searching out the various objects is fun!
A Starry Meditation
Here is a simple mindfulness meditation that can be used regardless of your location to get you started:
Get as comfortable as you can, making sure your neck and back are not in a strained position.
Consciously relax your muscles, take five deep breaths, and try to clear your mind of the day’s stresses.
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, find the North Star by locating the cup of the Big Dipper. The two stars on the end of the dipping cup point to the North Star (Polaris), which is also the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, look for Canopus, which is likely the brightest star you’ll see. Reflect on the fact that the light from either of these stars has taken 310-320 years to reach you here on Earth.
Study the differences in the objects in the sky. Notice the different sizes and even different colors. Not all stars are white—how many other colors can you spot?
Look for constellations—you already located the Big and Little Dipper when you searched for the North Star. Do you recognize any others? If not, search for patterns and make up your own names.
Consider that the ground you’re lying on is part of a planet that looks much like those in the sky from space. Consider how sturdy and strong it feels beneath your body or chair.
Finally, let yourself fill with gratitude—to the earth, God, to yourself…whatever seems right for you at that moment.
Close your meditation within another five slow deep breaths. You should feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
So head outside tonight and be well!
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