The Dark Truth: Natural Light and Your Mood
Research has shown that getting natural light is essential for overall health and wellness in multiple ways. Natural light provides mood support, ensures you get adequate vitamin D levels for your immune health, and is even important to your sleep quality. As it turns out, many Americans aren’t getting nearly enough natural light, and during the colder and darker months some people get next to none.
So, what gives? Why are we getting so much less natural light each day on average? Let’s take a look at the dark truth, and then see what we can do about it!
Why Americans Are Getting Less Natural Light
Too Much Screen Time
Healthcare officials are finally acknowledging that spending too much time in front of the computer, tablet, or cell phone can cause health issues. Looking at digital screens all day and night exposes you to too much artificial light which can throw off your inner clock, disrupting sleep. When you aren’t exposed to natural light during the day, but are exposed to artificial light from the time you wake up til the time you go to sleep, you are sending a message to your brain and body, telling them to be wide awake when they should be winding down for the evening. This is one of the biggest reasons people aren’t making enough natural melatonin find themselves having a hard time getting to sleep at night.
Long Work or School Hours
It’s not unusual for most Americans to work 40 or more hours per week, which means they are stuck in an office for eight or more hours every day. This can significantly decrease the amount of natural light you get, especially in the winter months. During the colder part of the year, it gets darker earlier. This means most Americans don’t even get out of the office until it’s already dark outside. Those who work in an office without windows are even more prone to natural light deprivation. The same goes for school-aged and even younger children. When the sun goes down earlier and kids have school, often followed by after-school activities, the amount of time they can spend outside is decreased.
How is This Affecting Our Health?
As we already discussed, when we don't produce enough melatonin, we don't get enough sleep. In fact, one study showed a correlation between lack of natural light and decreased melatonin production, as well as an increase in symptoms of depression. According to some studies, people who suffer from insomnia are exponentially more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. So when we're deprived of sunlight during the day and exposed to artificial light instead, it can have a serious impact on both our sleep and our moods.
But that's not all. Our bodies also produce a hormone called serotonin, which is believed to be triggered by sunlight. Serotonin is often associated with improved moods. So it's even more important that we feel the sun on our face every day.
What is The Solution?
Be intentional about getting outdoors
Here’s you what can you do if you aren’t getting enough natural light each day. Make an intentional effort to spend at least ten minutes per day outside if you can, and turn off electronics as early as possible before bed. However, if you simply can’t get outside at all, then you can also try light therapy.
Light therapy exposes your body to red as well as infrared light which can help regulate melatonin production, help improve sleep, and is even healthy for your skin. Some also use light therapy to help reduce inflammation, and many athletes are turning to light therapy to help with recovery.
The great news is that you can purchase your own light therapy device that doesn’t require you to go to the gym or the spa for a light therapy session. The biggest thing to keep in mind here is that you want to purchase a light therapy device that is able to treat your entire body without having to take hours to do so, so skip the small light therapy devices.
Light therapy makes it easy for anyone who finds themselves stuck inside each day with little to no natural light to enjoy some of the benefits of sunshine.
Regulate your screen time
Try to eliminate screen time at least two hours before going to bed at night, and if you can’t shut off the computer that early, invest in a blue light blocking screen protector to help to eliminate some of that blue artificial light you are exposing yourself to.
Take a natural supplement
To help regulate your inner clock you can also try getting outside in the natural light as much as you can during the day, and take a supplement with 3 mg of melatonin in it — the amount recommended by nutritionists. Once you start getting more light during the day, and less artificial light at night, you will be more likely to regulate your inner clock to get a better night sleep and feel better overall.
The Bottom Line
Since not getting enough natural light each day can lead to sleep issues, depression, and even fatigue, it is essential to make sure you are getting exposed to enough light each day.
While there is no replacement for natural light, light therapy is a reasonable alternative when you aren’t able to get as much natural light as your body requires. Try it and you should find that you sleep better, feel happier, and just feel better all-around! Don’t underestimate the power of light. Getting outside or using light therapy can make a world of difference in how you feel each and every day.