Take a look around you. Are you sitting outside soaking up the sun’s rays, or are you indoors relying on overhead lights and screens to illuminate your surroundings? Chances are, you are indoors, especially now that we have entered into some of the coldest months of the year. Exposure to natural light is critical to your health, so step outside to read this article and soak up all the health benefits of the sun.
The sun can help you beam
Sun exposure has also been linked to mood stabilization. “When sunlight hits your skin and your retinas, it creates serotonin,” Lori says. Increased levels of serotonin help to defend against depression and anxiety. Unlike Vitamin D, this benefit can be accessed without direct exposure to the sun, so sitting by a window or driving in your car on a sunny day can help.
It is estimated that 10 million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a type of depression related to the change of seasons, often occurring in the fall and winter months when less sunlight is available. Decreased sunlight means less Vitamin D absorption, as well as reduced serotonin and melatonin (the sleep hormone) production, which may all be contributing factors to SAD. Exposure to natural light every day can help to alleviate symptoms of SAD. There are also light boxes, a form of artificial light therapy meant to mimic the sun, that can be used to treat SAD symptoms.
Invite the light inside
While getting natural light is most important, there are ways you can modify your home to ensure you are getting the best light possible. First, open up your blinds. While you will not be able to absorb Vitamin D through the glass, you can let the light shine into your home, which can lift your mood. “Opening up your curtains warms your house, so in addition to letting in natural light, you can also take a load off of your HVAC system,” says Kimberly Joseph, sustainability manager at Atria Senior Living.
Second, assess the type of lighting you have in your home. Pay attention to the Kelvin measurement on light bulbs. Wattage measures the amount of electricity required, but the Kelvin scale measures the color temperature. Blue light, which is most like sunlight, has a measurement of 3,500 Kelvin or higher. Blue light should be used in your home during the day. “Older eyes do better with bluer light, especially when doing tasks such as sewing, cooking, or reading,” Kimberly says. “Be careful not to overlight, as this can create a glare.”
As evening hours approach, transition to using warmer lights so that your body can start to transition into a good night’s sleep. Kimberly recommends using a combination of overhead and floor lamps with bulbs of varying color temperatures so you can transition from blue light to warmer light throughout the day.
The health benefits of natural sunlight are plentiful. Your immune system, mood and sleep cycle depend on the rays of the sun to function normally. Even as we enter into the colder months of winter, make an effort to soak up the health benefits of the sun. “Bundle up and get outside – even in colder temperatures, you will get the benefits,” Lori says.
Light boxes can be used to treat SAD symptoms. These boxes provide a dose of intense artificial light and are best used first thing in the morning for at least 20 minutes. Light boxes range in price from $40 to over $100 dollars. Light boxes do not require a prescription and are not regulated by the FDA, so it is important to do your research on the product and ensure the light intensity is at least 10,000 lux.
By Tami Pyles | Photo by Hans Jurgen Mager
P.S. You might also like Step Into The Light (Part 1 of 3): Tips For Illuminating Your Home.