From bright sunshine to the light from a computer screen, we’re surrounded by different types of light which impact our lives in many ways.
Exposure to natural, outdoor light during the day has a positive effect on your health, whereas prolonged exposure to artificial lighting, especially at night, can have negative effects on your mood and general well-being.
It’s probably no surprise to hear that natural light is good for you, sunshine streaming through a window can have a calming, peaceful effect. But exposure to sunshine has a physiological effect on your body, and can do more than just brighten your mood.
Spending time outside during daylight can cause a spike in your serotonin levels, a chemical which is thought to regulate anxiety and mood. An increase in serotonin can induce happiness and make you feel more optimistic and helpful, whereas a decrease is often associated with depression.
People often describe having the “winter blues” when days get shorter and darker. Low levels of serotonin could be one of the reasons we feel more negative during darker days, and is also associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression linked to changes in seasons.
Your circadian rhythm is a biological process which oscillates every 24 hours and is driven by exposure to sunlight. Therefore, a healthy sleep cycle depends greatly on your actions throughout the day, and can be affected by the amount of artificial light you’re exposed to during the evening.
With more and more of us spending the evenings on our computer or phone, it’s no wonder so many people report having sleep problems. Energy-efficient bulbs and electronics with bright screens emit blue light, and this signals your body to stay awake instead of preparing you for a restful sleep.
Dimming the lights in your bedroom and avoiding electronic screens two to three hours before you go to bed should encourage your body to feel drowsy and help you get to sleep more easily.
Studies show that persistent poor sleep can increase the risk of developing certain illnesses and disorders such as diabetes and depression. So if you’ve been having problems sleeping, it may be due to an impact on your circadian rhythm.
Avoiding Blue Light
It’s virtually impossible to avoid blue light during the day as it’s emitted by energy-efficient bulbs, computer screens, smartphones, etc… It also may be difficult to avoid at night if you work night-shifts or spend your evenings using electronics with screens.
Exposure to artificial light during night time has also been linked to reduced levels of Melatonin, a hormone which is vital to your health and helps control your daily body clock.
A reduced production of Melatonin can impact your ability to sleep well, think clearly, and the regulation of vital physiological functions, so it’s best to avoid blue light before you go to bed.
If this just isn’t possible for you due to your work hours or lifestyle, you could use blue-blocking glasses or use an app that filters blue wavelengths.
As I mentioned earlier, different light affects us in different ways. Recent studies show that an environment with intense lighting can intensify a person’s a emotions. Sunny days and spending time in an area which is brightly illuminated can make people feel more positive and often report a higher sense of well being - an intensification of positive emotions.
On the other hand, extended exposure to darker days can make people feel more negative about their lives and often results in SAD. In this case, feeling negative emotions more intensely due to limited exposure to natural light.
Waking up to natural light in the morning can also help you feel more alert and energized, which is difficult during autumn and winter months as the sunrise gets later and later. Some people find that Light Therapy helps them develop healthier sleeping patterns during dark, gloomy times of the year.
Some of the most common light therapy techniques include Light Boxes and Daylight Simulation Lights. Light boxes can help treat SAD and involves light falling directly into the eye. Daylight simulation lights work when you’re asleep, and wake you up by gradually increasing light.
This technique can really help if you’re feeling lethargic, and prompts a biological response to help you feel more energetic and alert when you wake up.
With light having such a large effect on our mood and impacting our decision making, it’s no wonder that businesses and interior designers use lighting experts to create exactly the right atmosphere.
Exposure to natural light during the day and limiting artificial light in the evening is the best way to keep your mood up, stay alert and be productive. And most importantly, it will encourage the correct production of Melatonin to keep a healthy circadian rhythm.
Author Bio: Lisa Wetherell runs the blog Lighting House - where she writes about her knowledge gained from 10 years of industry experience in the lighting and interior design field. To learn more about how lighting can improve your space, you can follow her blog.