Light is essential for life. Without it, we wouldn’t be here, and earth would be a cold desolate place.
For the last 200,000 years, humans have relied on light from the sun for their health and well-being. For most of that time, people got plenty of sunlight exposure from being out of doors, hunting, foraging, building, and working. But in the 21st century, more and more people spend much of their time indoors. Overall, we simply don’t get enough light.
Light and Health
Why is light so important? Humans, animals, and plants depend on sunlight as a major source of energy. Think of how plants turn to catch as much sun as they can. Humans act in much the same way. We naturally seek out daylight and find too much darkness oppressive. Think of how good you feel on a sunny day and how days of gray, gloomy weather can be disheartening. People often feel depressed in winter when the short days and long nights can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Your brain needs light!
The human brain has literally evolved to run on light. Consider these facts:
- Our brains simply don’t function well in less than 5,000 lux of sunlight. The average office runs at 400 lux.
- Vitamin D receptors have been found in many parts of the brain, including areas linked to depression and other mental health issues.
- The rice-grain sized pineal gland is buried deep in the brain. It’s stimulated by sunlight to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates your daily or circadian rhythms that control appetite, energy, and sleep patterns.
How do you know if you’re not getting enough light? Insufficient exposure to light, especially sunlight, will show up as a lack of Vitamin D. As well as its effects on the brain, exposure to sunlight stimulates the skin to produce Vitamin D. Doctors now say that most people in the western world have some degree of Vitamin D deficiency which can manifest as:
- Low immunity, which may show up as frequent colds or other viral infections
- Unrestful sleep
Left untreated Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets (soft bones) in children and adults, muscle pain and weakness, and a compromised immune system. Even a moderately low deficiency has been linked with diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cancer.
What can you do?
Unless you plan a career change that keeps you outdoors for most of the day, you will need a diverse approach to increasing your Vitamin D levels. While you can and should take over the counter Vitamin D supplements and carefully increase your exposure to sunlight, there is a quick, easy way to up your light intake – light therapy.
Doctors are increasingly prescribing light therapy instead of medication, or to increase its effectiveness. Studies have shown that light therapy can be an effective treatment for a range of health problems, including:
- Skin conditions
- Stimulating collagen
- Rebuilding cartilage
- Sleep problems, such as insomnia and early waking
- Wound healing
- Pain relief
- Bipolar disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Erectile dysfunction
- Stress fractures
- Decreasing fitness levels and muscle function
- High blood pressure.
How to Use Light Therapy
If you have a particular medical condition or a severe deficiency, your doctor might prescribe a series of professional, medical light therapy treatments administered in a clinic.
For low Vitamin D levels, SAD or general health, light therapy is easy to administer, non-invasive, and can be done at home. Specially designed light therapy lamps or lightboxes can be bought in department and drug stores and are often labeled SAD lights.
A light therapy light box use LEDs or tubes that mimic sunlight, emitting up to 10,000 lux, but without the harmful ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn and skin damage. To be effective a lightbox should have a minimum intensity of 2,500 lux, which is about the same light intensity as an overcast day.
Light therapy sessions should last between 15 minutes up to two hours, starting with short sessions and increasing the time as necessary. Keep sessions in the morning so you don’t disrupt your sleeping patterns. Remember you’re trying to replicate the sun’s natural cycle.
Light therapy lamps or boxes can be kept next to your computer or workspace. A lightbox designed to help with SAD can be kept next to your bed and used to help you wake up in the morning by gradually increasing the amount of light in the bedroom.
You can even get fancy light therapy glasses that you can wear around the house! Helllooo mommy multitasking!
Key Things to Remember with Light Therapy
- Choose a light therapy lamp that emits at least 2,500 lux — I like this one because it has the max 10,ooo lux!
- Start with short sessions and work your way up
- Keep your light therapy to morning sessions
- Check with your doctor
- Always use sunscreen when exposed to sunlight