Late night stealth

I would like to share with you some things I’ve learned about creeping around stealthily late at night, after the family have gone to bed, in case you find yourself in a similar situation. I’m pretty good at it now. So, obviously to avoid waking anyone up, you want to avoid making any noise, and also avoid any lights. Here’s my list of things to be aware of:

  • Night vision is given by a biochemical change inside the eye: in 5-10 minutes you’ll get pretty good night vision, and in half an hour more or less the maximum. But any exposure to light will very quickly reverse the change. So, if you need to turn on a light (eg the bathroom), just keep one eye tight shut to preserve its night vision.
  • Your peripheral vision is more light-sensitive than your central vision. This is because humans are optimised for daylight: the fovea has a high concentration of cones (sensitive in good lighting conditions) and a lower concentration of rods (sensitive to low light levels). You can see this in a dark room with a very dim light source – if you look directly at the light, it will disappear because the cones around your fovea can’t detect it. But you will see it clearly if you don’t look directly at it.
  • If you’re anything like me, your joints, especially knees and ankles, may crack when walking up and down stairs (and maybe at other times). I’ve found the best defence against this is to give my feet a quick roll around before embarking upon the stairs.
  • Know your house. This takes time to master, but if you are a habitual late-nighter, you’ll learn all the things that make noise. It is very important not to walk into anything, before you have your proper night vision! Kids’ rooms are among the most dangerous places in the dark. Even if you don’t step on a lego brick, you may still knock something that plays a tune or makes a loud noise.
  • Practically all staircases have creaky areas. To minimize creak, walk on the edge of the riser or towards the wall. The middle of the step is likely to creak the most.
  • Doors are most likely to creak at the ajar position, even if they are moved slowly. If you have a somewhat creaky door, moving it quickly is sometimes a good option to avoid the creak.
  • Soft noises of the white noise type are unlikely to wake people. Don’t be obsessed with being absolutely silent. The soft brushing of socks on carpet, or the quiet swish of a curtain closing are noises that shouldn’t wake anyone.
  • If you have to get into bed with a sleeping person, do your best to spread your weight and not to press the mattress down unevenly.
  • If you have to get undressed, do so in another room. Clothes can make quite a bit of noise, jeans and belts especially. Flannel pyjamas are almost silent.
  • Socks are better than bare feet. Bare feet are OK on carpet, but less so on hard floors.
  • Know a bit about phases of sleep. This will enable you to judge whether the sleepers are more or less likely to awaken. Note: phases of sleep progress differently in very young children.

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