Life on earth is solar-powered.
Our food grows thanks to sunlight, sun-grown plants release oxygen for us to breathe, and drinking water is evaporated by the sun from oceans to fall salt-free on the land.
When light forms such a huge part of our existence, it’s no wonder we need to see and feel it every day. No one should underestimate the power of the light side.
Why Is Light so Important?
Natural sunlight is not only essential for our basic air, food, and water needs, it also produces vitamins and controls our emotional health through circadian rhythms.
We have a built-in clock that follows the sun. It means we’re awake during daylight hours and asleep during the darkness. This 24-hour circadian rhythm has a huge effect on mood and emotional well-being.
What Happens If We Don’t Get Enough Light?
Without enough light, we get physically and emotionally sick. Here’s how:
The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle based on the sun’s path. Light wakes us in the morning, and the darker evenings cue to sleep.
When this pattern is disrupted, it affects our endocrine systems. The endocrine system’s pineal gland produces a hormone called melatonin, which regulates our sleep, mood, and emotional well-being.
A lack of melatonin disrupts sleeping patterns and proper release of hormones; it messes with your blood pressure and upsets glucose regulation.
This can lead to emotional health problems such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, low mood, and feeling foggy, as well as major physical illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and asthma.
The endocrine system is vitally important to emotional well-being, and it’s regulated by a healthy relationship with light.
Getting enough vitamin D is vital to your health. A lack of it has been linked to osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The action of sunlight on the skin creates vitamin D, which aids absorption of calcium to make bones and teeth strong.
It’s difficult to get vitamin D from food, and some experts suggest we take a supplement in the darker months.
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that’s linked to shorter daylight hours. It affects people in the winter months and tends to vanish in the summer.
The symptoms of SAD are:
- Persistent low mood
- A lack of interest in life
- Lacking in energy in the day
- Sleeping longer than normal
- Craving carbohydrates
- Weight gain
SAD is not totally understood, but experts think it’s caused by lack of sunlight disrupting the circadian rhythms and potentially by a lack of vitamin D. This means our hormones create less serotonin to regulate mood.
Being outside in the light usually equates to exercise, which helps manage stress.
Simply taking a walk releases serotonin, the feel-good hormone that banishes stress and anxiety.
Without light, we don’t move about so much and tend to sit around looking at screens. These bad habits can push stress levels up and harm your mental health.
How To Improve Your Mood With Light
Getting more light into your eyes and onto your skin can make a big difference to your physical and emotional health.
Here are four ways to boost your light levels.
1. Light Therapy—More Natural Light
The obvious route to getting more light is to head outside more often.
Try to take a walk on your lunch hour, and go outside on weekends. Even if it’s not a hot day, natural sunlight will still reach your eyes and skin.
Be aware of sunburn in the summer, but allow 20–30 minutes of sunlight on your face and forearms each day to prompt the creation of vitamin D.
If possible, sit next to the office window for a natural sunlight boost.
2. Light Therapy—Use Artificial Light
It’s not always practical to go outside. Bad weather and a busy lifestyle can mean you’re stuck indoors. If that’s the case, invest in a lightbox.
Lightboxes simulate daylight, and they’re used by SAD sufferers to treat symptoms effectively. The trick is to sit in front of one early each day for 20–30 minutes.
You could also try a natural light alarm clock that gently simulates sunrise and prompts your natural biological responses.
RELATED: Light Therapy
3. Banish Light Pollution
Getting too little light is a problem, but at the other end of the scale, getting too much isn’t good, either.
Light pollution is rife in towns. Artificial light at nighttime disrupts wildlife and your circadian rhythm. It blots out the stars and prompts your hormones to create melatonin that keeps you awake.
Not getting enough sleep can affect your health badly, so buy a blackout blind and an eye mask, and keep the curtains closed.
4. Cut Back Screen Time
Light pollution is also created by your smartphone.
Most of us look at our phones before bedtime and even wake in the night to check the time, but screens create a blue light that tells your brain to wake up.
Blue light stimulates the brain, so switch on the blue light filter during the evening if you have one, and avoid screens completely before bedtime. Swap your phone for a traditional alarm clock or sunrise simulator instead.
Lighting the Way to a Better Mood
Take some time to think about your relationship with sunlight, because it can make a big difference in your mood and emotional well-being.
If you think you’re missing out on natural light, find ways to break out for lunch, eat your breakfast in front of a lightbox, and restrict blue light in the evening.
Mood lighting isn’t about romance and candles—it’s about getting a healthy dose of light each day.
This can be enough to shift you back into a natural circadian rhythm, boost vitamin D levels, and improve your mental health to no end.