Have you ever noticed a positive shift in your mood as you walk outdoors or into a bright and sunny room? If so, you are not the only one! Believe it or not, spending time in natural light has proven to have a positive impact on personal health in a variety of ways. So, this begs the question, if there are so many positives to basking in the sunshine and such importance of natural light, why are we not taking advantage of this natural resource? The answer likely lies in our daily routines and our current home and building designs.
What Does Science Say?
It is estimated that between home and work life, people are now spending over three-quarters of their time indoors. With an increase in our exposure to artificial light and with many of us staring at bright screens for extended periods of time, it is easy to see why some problems are becoming more prominent in today's society. These issues include but are not limited to:
- An increase in people experiencing eye strain symptoms
- A rising number of individuals with Vitamin D deficiencies
- Decreased productivity from increased sick days or mental health leave
- And disturbance of our natural sleep cycles due to lack of melatonin production.
Since our bodies do not produce the same levels of melatonin when exposed to artificial light, spending copious amounts of time indoors can really throw your circadian rhythm off track. If you seem to have a hard time dozing off at night, and as a result, have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, then chances are your circadian rhythm needs regulating!
The good news is that this much-needed reset might be easier to achieve than we think. As we become more conscious of the benefits linked with healthy doses of sunshine, we are getting creative with the ways that natural light can be incorporated into our work and home spaces. For example, many businesses and homeowners are opting to add more windows, such as skylights, into their building designs. Another avenue gaining popularity is a process called daylighting, which works by providing a natural source of light indoors and has the potential to cut down on electrical energy costs. With options like this now on the market, these proposed investments are becoming quite feasible and allow us to incorporate natural light into our homes and reap the benefits that come with it.
While it is important to be cautious of the amount of time you are spending in the sun to avoid overexposure, it is suggested that spending a few minutes in direct sunlight each day is sufficient time for our bodies to synthesize a healthy amount of Vitamin D. Increasing our intake may significantly reduce the risk of developing other ailments in the long run that have been linked to Vitamin D deficiencies. Some of these ailments include some forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, hypertension, and some cardiac abnormalities.
In terms of our day to day routines, increased exposure to sunlight early in the day can also aid in a more restful sleep at night. The earlier in the morning we are exposed to sunlight, the sooner our melatonin production stops, helping keep our natural circadian rhythm on a proper cycle. Melatonin is not only important for regulating our sleep cycles, but it is also shown to play a part in battling infection, inflammation, and auto-immunity according to some reviews. Believe it or not, melatonin is not the only hormone in our body with production that can be affected by the sun.
Studies show that on sunnier days our brains produce more of the hormone serotonin which is our natural antidepressant. Through research, it is found that a lack of serotonin production and sunlight contributes to the development of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Those diagnosed with SAD are more prone to experiencing signs of depression during winter months where natural sun exposure goes down. A cross-study examining the role sunlight has on our cognitive function in depressed and non-depressed individuals found there was a link between lower cognitive impairment and higher doses of sunlight.
In yet another study, it is discussed how natural light makes for a more alert and productive workplace. Productivity jumped approximately two percent when an employee was placed close to a window that allowed for natural sunlight exposure. In terms of personal health, the study also found that symptoms related to eyestrain dropped by over eighty percent when workers were placed in environments that utilized more natural light sources.
From providing us with Vitamin D, promoting melatonin production, regulating our circadian rhythms, boosting our mood, and increasing our productivity, the benefits to natural sunlight exposure are ample and not to be overlooked.
Improve your Energy Savings
Electrical lighting has its own pros and cons like any alternative would. On one hand, it makes life easier when natural light is unavailable, on the other hand (beyond its impact on health) it is shown to contribute excess heat to a room while in use and increase expenses. It is approximated that electrical lighting alone can account for up to half of a building’s electrical energy expenses. This poses a problem particularly during warmer months, forcing air conditioning systems to work harder to maintain cooler temperatures within buildings. While the added heat may be welcomed during colder seasons, there are still ways to incorporate light fixtures that provide healthier and more comfortable indoor environments. Through exploring options such as daylighting, we have the opportunity to reduce our energy bills; some commercial buildings could see energy cost reductions of up to a third through the strategic use of natural lighting.
While natural light provides an array of benefits for personal health, it can also be highly advantageous to home and office spaces when it comes to reducing overall energy consumption. It costs a pretty penny to keep our spaces heated, air-conditioned, and well lit for hours on end. Luckily, as we become more aware of ways to utilize natural light, there is ample opportunity to save money while improving our health and daily productivity simultaneously.