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​How does natural light impact our bodies?

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It’s not an uncommon thing to hear someone say “I feel miserable in winter” or “I love summer – the long days really energise me”. For some people, the increased number of hours of natural light does indeed make them feel better and, conversely, less natural daylight hours make them tired and down-in-the-dumps. These people suffer from a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD Is an actual mood disorder, whereby the amount of natural light (and, some believe, the temperature) affects the hormones that govern your serotonin levels, melatonin levels or circadian rhythm (or a combination of all three). SAD is a subtype of clinical depression although SAD that occurs in winter has a few different symptoms – as does summer SAD.

Mood disorders affected by light

In general, the symptoms of depression or SAD are:

  • Feeling depressed (most of the day, almost every day) – not just a little upset
  • Lack of energy
  • Sluggish or, conversely, agitated
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • No interest in once-favourite activities
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Appetite or weight fluctuations

Because the cause for some people living with SAD is too little natural light, the treatment in some instances is phototherapy. By increasing the amount of light one experiences in a day, the treatment lessens the impact of the disorder and may even prevent it. It doesn’t have to be natural light, however. A light box used in the morning and afternoon can be just as affective. If you think you’d prefer more “natural” light, though, you could opt for a warmer LED light (in the lower Kelvin range). LED lights in the ‘natural sunlight’ range benefit people in more ways than one, and can even improve concentration in people without a mood disorder.

While there are other therapies for mood disorders that are caused by light, light itself can be the best: it’s cheap, readily available and there are little unknown side effects; in fact, the side effects are almost none. Phototherapy can be done while you’re doing something else, like reading, knitting or talking to a friend on the phone. It’s therapy that forces you to sit and relax! Not many other recognised treatments can claim that.

Who would have thought that by utilising more light during the day you can help avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder? Don’t use this as an excuse to run up your electricity bill, though!


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