The power of light: The health benefits of natural light
Have you ever noticed how light affects you? Bright natural morning light can make you feel more awake and full of energy, happy and positive or possibly even irritate you if you are tired and find it too bright. On a cloudy day the lack of light can make you feel tired, hungry, lazy or depressed and for some very comfortable when they are tired and have the opportunity to relax.
Some people experience this more than others, but light does affect everyone.
Light not only allows us to see, it also penetrates our bodies and brains and to a great extent runs the show. It is directly involved in arousal and sleep, but its role in the body goes far beyond that.
In the brain we have a special cluster of 1000s of cells, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, that receives information about light exposure from our eyes. This information then has an effect on our brain and nerve messengers, called neurotransmitters.
We have numerous different neurotransmitters. They are involved in balancing mood, helping us function well via stress-hormones with the rollercoaster of life, supporting good concentration during the day and restful sleep at night.
However, these neurotransmitters are also involved in many other aspects of life and health. This includes the immune system, digestive function, sugar-and-fat-metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure control, muscle tension and pain management.
Our world and lives have changed so much over the last half century when it comes to our light exposure. We are indoors more than ever before and do not spend as much time in natural light. We live with our eyes fixed to screens radiating blue-light, whether it fits the time of day or not.
It is easy to see how we experience more anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, chronic pain, immune system disorders and so much more.
Too little daylight (blue-spectrum light) in the morning and too much blue-spectrum light from screens or artificial lights at night can interfere very much with our mood, sleep, metabolism, immune system and more!
Various studies show the impact of light on health:
- Blue light exposure at night increases the risk for prostate and breast cancer.
- Bright light (daylight frequencies) in the morning hours improves mood during the day and sleep quality at night.
- Blue light exposure at night alters sleepiness and sugar metabolism significantly.
- Night light can interfere with mechanisms of cell death and multiplication – meaning that it can increase the risk for cancer development.
Simply put: Light exposure out of synchronisation with natural light rhythms can make you tired, depressed, fat, increase your cancer risk and interfere with sleep.
On the other hand, light exposure according to natural-light-rhythms and frequencies can improve your mood, energy levels, recovery from sickness, immune system, blood sugar management and reduce your cancer risk!
What can you do?
Get out into natural light during the morning hours whenever you can. Take your coffee break outside or step-out for a moment from the busy office to take a daylight-break, like a smoker would take a smoke-break!
Switch-off your screens/smart devices 1-2 hours before bed. Go back to old-school books or read on an e-reader with no blue-light (no tablets, laptops, phones or TVs). Page through a magazine, do some nice stretch-exercises, listen to a podcast or audio-book, cook some good food for the next day, sort-out something in your house or garden.
Wake-up-lights are available on the international market, but not yet in South Africa. These lights go on gradually in the morning similar to a sunrise and provide a bright light in the morning. They can be very helpful, especially when you wake-up before sunrise.
A new fascinating and fabulous product is in development in South Africa, which will be a built-in fixture similar to a skylight and will provide light frequencies mimicking natural light at various time of day. The light will be controlled from a smart phone, setting wake-up times and brighter vs softer lights.
The light fixture will not simply be similar to current daylight up to dimmable lights, but will truly mimic natural light frequencies. This is a unique and new idea and should have major positive health and mood effects. Watch this space for more information! We will certainly say more as soon as there is more to say.
Make sure you get out in natural light as often as possible, especially in the mornings. Switch off your smart devices and fancy screens at night and find a good read.
Look up and observe the world around you, chat to a real person, gaze at the starry sky, go for a walk, do some gardening or do something creative.
Start living more in sync with natural light and feel the difference!