As Autumn saunters in and Summer comes to a close, we see shorter days, and in the north, changing leaves and cooler temperatures. Fall is glorious for many reasons. Known for its beauty and transition, Fall also brings a change in exposure to daylight. The Equinox dictates shorter days and longer nights. Providing more light during waking hours is the rationale behind daylight savings time.
We are all aware of seasonal depression. This is a real illness characterized by insufficient exposure to natural light. Although all of us do not suffer with seasonal depression, exposure to light does affect our well being, specifically our emotions. Reflect on how we feel on sunny days versus rainy or cloudy days. The labels themselves lend to corresponding emotions, such as “sunny disposition” or “rainy day blues.”
It is scientifically proven that natural light has a noticeable effect on our mood. Below please find how exposure to light can affect emotions:
Bright light can heighten emotions. Bright lights evoke greater emotional intensity, both positive and negative. In a 2014 study, participants were asked to rate a wide range of things-the spiciness of chicken-wing sauce, the aggressiveness of a fictional character, how attractive someone was, their feelings about specific words, and the taste of two juices-under different lighting conditions. The results: under bright lights emotions are felt more intensely. In the brighter room participants wanted spicier chicken wing sauce, thought the fictional character was more aggressive, found the women more attractive, felt better about positive words and worse about negative words, and drank more of the “favorable” juice and less of the “unfavorable” juice. The research says the effect bright light has on our emotional system may be the result of it being perceived as heat, and the perception of heat can trigger our emotions.
Blue light infuses energy. We are most commonly exposed to blue light through electronic devices: smart phones, TV’s, iPads, and laptops to name a few. During the day, blue light can be extremely beneficial as it increases vigor and alertness. A recent study found participants who were exposed to short wavelength, high energy blue light was more productive – able to complete tasks more quickly and more accurately. Blue light continues to increase alertness for a full half hour after exposure ends.
Blue light is problematic at bedtime. As you may know, the blue light from electronic devices impedes rest. Blue light disrupts the production of our sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Trouble falling asleep can lead to sleep deprivation, which includes a whole host of emotional and physiological side effects, from impaired judgement and heightened stress to high blood pressure. So, while blue light can provide a helpful pick-me-up in the morning, not using electronic devices a few hours before we go to bed may improve rest.
Natural light makes us happier. In a 2014 study, researchers found those who had windows in their offices exercised more, got more sleep (on average, 46 minutes more a night), and had a greater sense of overall well being than those whose offices had no windows. These findings lead researchers to believe exposure to natural light helps one’s body stay in tune with their circadian rhythm, allowing alert and energetic feelings at the right times, as well as appropriately restful and sleepy.
Natural light reduces depression symptoms. Researchers in a 2013 study found for people with Vitamin D deficiencies and depression, seven weeks of increased sunlight exposure (in the form of increased outdoor time), helped alleviate depressive symptoms. Another 2015 study corroborated these findings. In the 2015 study, researchers found that instead of spending more time outdoors, light therapy could be beneficial for depression. Light therapy, a process that involves regular, prolonged exposure to lamps designed to mimic outdoor light, in combination with anti-depressants, was significantly more effective in treating depression than anti-depressants alone. Exposure to natural light, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health… it effects… mood, alertness, and metabolism.
Light affects appetite. Studies have found light affects how much we eat, how fast we eat, what kinds of food we’re in the mood for, and even our perception of flavor. In general, we eat slower and consume less food in restaurants with softer, dimmer lighting. However, we may also be more likely to order unhealthy food in darker restaurants. Researchers believe this is because softer lighting may make us less alert and more relaxed, which means we’re less likely to think through our food selections (and asses how caloric they are) but more likely to eat at a leisurely pace, instead of scarfing our food down. Light can also affect how food tastes. In a 2009 study, researchers found background lighting affected how much participants liked a particular brand of wine, possibly because of the way different kinds of light affected the wine’s color.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato