There is an essential logic to the argument that human beings fare best when bathed in natural light for long periods every day. Clearly, life on this planet was not created with Thomas Alva Edison and his artificial light bulb in mind. If nothing else, natural light can reduce eyestrain and the resulting crankiness that an eyestrain headache can cause.
Yet there is also good reason to believe that natural light can do far more, by allowing the full spectrum of natural rays to strike not only our skin but our retinas.
Again, there is an underlying logic, since research suggests that sunlight even triggers various stages of physical maturation. We know, for example, that the age at which girls start to menstruate appears tied to the amount of sunlight they receive during the year. (Girls who live at the equator begin their periods much earlier than those near the North Pole.)
Taking a bath in the sun
Over the years, many health cures have relied on “sunbathing” – literally bathing in the rays of the sun. The idea is that the rays have healing properties, at the same time they disinfect us by killing harmful germs.
Sunlight also causes the body to produce Vitamin D, which builds strong bones and teeth, while boosting the immune system. Vitamin D is credited with with helping people fight a variety of disorders including some cancers. The only two ways to get your daily dose of this essential vitamin are to enjoy enough sunlight to trigger the response or to eat foods to which it has been added. (Milk is often fortified with Vitamin D as a public health approach to ensuring the general population gets enough of this vitamin. Prior to that campaign, lots of kids grew up with rickets, a bone condition caused by lack of Vitamin D.)
SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder
Depriving people of natural light can trigger depression. The condition is called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder where people fall into a depression during the times of the year when sunlight grows scarce – fall and winter in the northern hemisphere. (Those of us who live in Michigan consider the fall and winter blues a geographic and seasonal inevitability.)
The theory is that the powerful pineal gland responds to lack of sunlight by overproducing melatonin, long known to make us sleepy. Not only does that mean the tiredness causes us to lose mental acuity, but the hormonal changes can affect blood pressure, heart rate, body rhythms and a host of other physical processes. Worrisome as well is that not only do we suffer problems by being robbed of the healing sunlight we need, but that substituting artificial light itself causes problems.
The good news is that the importance of natural lighting is now widely accepted. A number of companies have invested in re-engineering their entire lighting systems to enhance the amount of natural sunlight in the workplace, supplemented with full-spectrum lighting. The good news is that many report that the resulting boost in productivity more than paid for the changes.
For our own homes and home offices, a simple solution is to replace existing light bulbs with “natural” (full spectrum) light bulbs. You can also invest in light sticks or a light box with full-spectrum lights to help chase away the wintertime blues.