Winter Blues ? More Natural Light Could Be The Answer To Beating Them
Whilst the lack of sunlight in winter doesn’t have as great an impact on our lifestyles as it once did before the dawn of electricity, what does the reduction in natural light mean for our health?
Why is natural light important?
Natural light plays a surprising role in a variety of physical and mental health disorders.
Light plays a huge role when it comes to our body clocks. For example, light in the morning helps us to wake up and feel energised and alert. Dimmer light in the evening helps our bodies and minds relax, preparing us for a good night’s sleep.
The problem during the winter is that less natural light increases our levels of melatonin (the hormone that regulates our daily sleep-wake cycles). As a result, we tend to feel sleepier early in the evening, disrupting our circadian rhythm (body clock), which can lead to our physiological and mental functions being affected.
Lack of natural light and SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that follows a seasonal schedule. It’s often referred to as “winter depression” or “winter blues” because most people who experience it find their symptoms are more prominent and severe during the winter.
According to the NHS, whilst the exact cause of SAD is unknown, the primary theory is that it is caused by a lack of sunlight, which, in turn, impacts melatonin and serotonin levels and the body’s internal clock.
People with SAD even undergo light therapy – where a light box is used to simulate natural light – to help relieve their symptoms.
Even if you are not susceptible to SAD during the winter, exposure to more natural light can afford a number of health benefits.
Here are 5 health benefits of natural light to give you some food for thought:
1. Natural light improves your mood
As we’ve already briefly mentioned, natural light boosts your mood. The fact that light therapy is a frequently used treatment for SAD highlights this perfectly.
Scientists believe that serotonin (the happy hormone) increased during the summer, when days are longer and nights are shorter. In the winter, the opposite is true. That’s why it’s so important to get as much sunlight as you can during the winter days – something that many office workers struggle to do.
2. Natural light makes you more productive
Exposure to natural light makes people more productive. But don’t just take our word for that. A recent piece in the Harvard Business Review says that almost half (47%) of employees feel tired or very tired at work because there isn’t enough natural light. A further 43% said the lack of natural light made them feel gloomy.
It goes without saying that tired and gloomy employees are not the most productive versions of themselves and that should be a huge consideration for employers.
3. Natural light boosts your vitamin D storage
Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium and promotes healthy bone growth. It’s also been linked to helping prevent heart disease, weight gain and even certain types of cancer. In other words, vitamin D sounds like something we should be getting.
Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D there is – one of the reasons vitamin D is sometimes referred to as “the sunshine vitamin”.
In the UK, midday during the summer is the best time to boost your vitamin D levels from sunlight. Just 13 minutes of sunlight exposure three times a week is enough to keep your vitamin D levels “healthy”.
4. Natural light benefits your vision
Whilst frequent exposure to smartphones, computer screens and florescent light can cause eye strain, which can sometimes lead to permanent eye damage, natural light, on the other hand, has been shown to benefit healthy eye development.
Children especially should get enough natural light whilst their bodies are still developing as it helps their eyes produce dopamine, which reduces the risk of myopia (near-sightedness).
5. Natural light helps you sleep
Did you know that exposure to natural light in the morning actually helps you sleep better at night? It’s because when our bodies are exposed to more sunlight during the day, they better recognise the contrast with darkness in the evening, which triggers melatonin production to start.
It’s widely believed that one of the keys to achieving better sleep is more exposure to sunlight during the day and less exposure to artificial light at night.
How to get more natural light over winter
Are you getting enough natural light exposure? Are your family? It’s something we often don’t think about, but with winter fast approaching, maybe we should.
The most obvious way to get more natural light during the winter period is to spend more time outside during the daylight hours. As easy as this sounds, it can prove challenging due a mixture of bad weather and being stuck inside working during the day.
If you can’t go outside to get more natural light, why not introduce more natural light into your home? This way you can experience the benefits of natural light without being restricted by the weather. Home workers can even fill their natural light quota whilst typing away.