Light and its value to you
The value of light and its effect on us is far greater than most people realize. Light plays a remarkable role for maintaining health and general well being. Light is as important a supplement as any vitamin, mineral, or anti-oxidant. Proper exposure to beneficial wavelengths of light is absolutely essential for health maintenance. You can learn how to make the better use of light in your life through a few simple lifestyle changes.
Light is a powerful regulator of the human circadian system, our biological body clock. The circadian clock controls physiological changes that occur with the natural light-dark cycle of the day. Circadian rhythm disorders are among the major causes of sleep disruption and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called winter onset depression. You can learn more about circadian rhythms by visiting our sections on enhancing sleep, circadian rhythms, SAD, and our section on jet lag.
We are light-dependent beings. A lack of proper daily light levels will disrupt our internal body clock. The circadian body clock responds to a relatively narrow band of blue light known as the “action spectrum.” This blue light action spectrum, interestingly, correlates to the color of the blue sky. This blue light wavelength plays a major role in aligning and resetting the body clock through the control of release of hormones including the sleep hormone, melatonin.
We work in buildings using artificial light that disrupt our circadian rhythms. We drive cars with tinted glass that lowers the transmission of beneficial light. When in the outdoors, many of us wear sunglasses blocking beneficial light from entering the retina. The result; it significantly reduces the light frequencies that we need every day.
The best way to properly set your body clock is simply by getting natural light during the day. We are most sensitive to light in the early morning and late afternoon. Getting adequate light is relatively easy during much of the year.
First step, take off your sunglasses!
If you wear sunglasses often, you are depriving yourself of beneficial blue spectrum light. People are basically using sunglasses too often, not recognizing that it has an impact on health and well-being.
Many who work indoors put on sunglasses the moment they go out to compensate for the brightness. When light is blocked in this manner it is sending a signal to the brain that it is night or dusk causing melatonin to be released. This can easily result in circadian sleep disorders and can worsen winter depression.
Try this little experiment… The next time it is nice outside, when you are in a natural setting such as a park or in the woods, pay attention to your mood and how you are feeling with and without your sunglasses. Pay attention and you may notice a subtle but obvious change in your mood. This will be more pronounced during the shorter days of the year.
It is important to condition yourself to take those sunglasses off when practical. It may be a little difficult at first as your eyes may need time to reacclimatize to natural light but you will desensitize rather quickly. Wearing a hat with a brim will help since direct sunlight is not required. Of course, there are times when sunglasses are quite important. You will want to continue to wear your sunglasses in very bright settings and when driving to reduce glare.
If you are in a work environment with minimal exposure to direct light, take your breaks outside even if it is just ten minutes. When you are outside during lunch or on weekends, especially when in a natural setting, you want to allow your eyes to receive that natural, blue sky light. When at work, it will help to be near a window, but often the glass is blocking the important part of the blue spectrum since many modern glass windows contain tint.