Do you feel mentally or physically listless during the winter months? It might be because you are not getting enough natural light.
Humans have long understood the beneficial properties of daylight. Our ancestors worshiped the sun as the source of all life: the Babylonian king, Hammurabi, nearly 4000 years ago advised sunlight to treat illnesses; and in the 4C Hippocrates also recommended light to overcome illnesses. Fast forward to Florence Nightingale who, in the mid 19C, promoted daylight and fresh air to speed up recovery from injury. Today we have a lot of science to back up the belief that natural light is good not only for our bodies, but our minds too:
Light gives us vitamin D – vital for bone development. Sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D which is needed to absorb calcium for bodily strength. (A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to depression and obesity.)
Light improves our focus and productivity – particularly in the workplace, where abundance of natural light has been shown to be a factor in improving efficiency and morale, and in reducing illness and absenteeism.
Light keeps our body clock in time – which helps coordinate many functions, from digestion to cell regeneration. A Harvard study found that our circadian rhythms need to be reset daily with exposure to light and dark, which means that as well as getting some natural light each day, we also need to switch off our devices (phone screens, computers, TV) well before going to sleep, as the artificial light they emit can trick our biology into thinking it is still daytime.
Light helps us psychologically – lack of natural light can make us feel depressed and anxious, as has been recognised by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a significant issue for many people who live in the more northern regions.
Linda Geddes’ book Chasing the Sun has many interesting accounts of the science behind how the sun shapes our bodies and minds.
So, here are 3 ways to light up your life and boost your wellbeing:
- Get outside – start the day with a walk: even on the gloomiest day it is at least ten times brighter outside. You will benefit from the light, while appreciating the beauty of your local park on a frosty morning.
- Let the sunshine in – if the sun shines into your home – that spot in the corner of the kitchen, perhaps – sit there to have your breakfast and/or to read your book. Don’t let those sunny spots go to waste.
- Try a light box – a couple of great friends of mine have struggled, because of their work, to get enough natural light during the darker days of the year and have successfully used light boxes to boost their energy levels and to avoid the blues.
As Ted Hughes wrote we are ‘creatures of light’. Exposure to more light simply makes us feel better.