With most of us spending almost all of our time indoors, and with the sun’s rays having received much bad press as a cause of skin cancer, few of us soak up the sun’s rays anymore. In fact, not getting enough sunlight is a far greater overall health hazard than soaking in the rays. We now know that sunburn not sun exposure is what causes skin cancer.
Sunlight is the purest healing force for life on this earth. It is fundamental to our endocrine systems, the timing of our biological clocks, immunologic responsiveness, sexual development, regulation of stress and fatigue, control of infections, absorption of nutrients, and the functioning of the nervous system. For our body to thrive, we require the sun’s full spectrum of solar radiation, which we absorb through our eyes and skin: the visible color spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet); the infrared (heat just beyond red that we feel when sunburned); and the ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths (just beyond violet).
To function optimally, we all need a daily minimum of 30 minutes of exposure to natural daylight without sunscreens or glasses. Ideally, some experts believe we should be getting two hours of daylight, while avoiding direct sunlight between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.
Few of us get it. If you feel fatigued, drained, spacey, depressed, and prone to viral and bacterial infections, you are likely not getting your ration of the sun’s nutrients.
In some people, insufficient light interferes with emotional regulation and they become clinically depressed, a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When the days start to get short and the sky gray, lack of light causes winter doldrums. The treatment is exposing the sufferer to light that equals the full-spectrum of the sun and that includes a small amount of ultra violet (UV) radiation. Under full spectrum lighting symptoms reduce significantly within two to four days.
To maximize natural sunlight and rely less on artificial lighting:
- Keep windows clean and open as much as possible, unobstructed by drawn curtains or blinds.
- Use mirrors opposite windows in rooms with low light levels.
- Use full-spectrum lights where possible – see the next page.
- Install non-tinted skylights, and create atriums and sunrooms where you can.
- Dress bedroom windows with sheer or semi-sheer curtains or blinds to let in early morning light.
Since we spend so much time indoors, ideally we need to get more UV light. Yet it is virtually absent from older incandescent lighting (lightbulbs), shielded in standard fluorescent bulbs, and virtually blocked by normal window glass, including that on our automobiles and eyeglasses. Even on a rainy morning, it is brighter outside than inside with the lights on.
In other words, artificial lighting offers only a portion of the full spectrum of the sun's light. The now phased out incandescent bulbs, or ordinary household bulbs, gave off more red light than normal daylight and gave a yellow tone to objects: blues looked green; reds looked orange. They actually produced more infrared heat than they do light.
Fluorescent bulbs give off ultraviolet and blue light that gives a cold, stark appearance to a room and creates glare. These lights also send out pulsing vibrations and older lights often start to hum and flicker. People working under fluorescent lighting commonly report irritability, eyestrain, headaches, allergies, hyperactivity and fatigue.
Here are some suggestions on better lighting solutions:
- Replace overhead fluorescent lights with full spectrum fluorescents or an Ott floor lamp. Full-spectrum lights more closely resemble the balance of spectral light in daylight and are available at most lighting stores in the form of incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes for general interior lighting. They do emit slightly higher levels of UV than ordinary bulbs and tubes but the manufacturers deem them safe.
- Replace all of the older incandescent bulbs with full-spectrum bulbs or LED lights as neither flicker. LED bulbs are available that work with dimmer switches and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, even replacing the commercial fluorescent bulbs we commonly see in stores and schools.
- Use a bright Ott bulb for computer work, reading, artwork or drafting. It emits an uplifting white light, without glare or heat that enables you to see the screen or objects more clearly and accurately, and provides the benefit of sunlight while working.
- Wear UV filter glasses if you have normal vision and must work under cool fluorescent light and suffer from late-day headache or eye strain. UV filter glasses filter out the harmful ultraviolet, violet and blue light waves emitted by the tubes overhead. For indoor use most people prefer clear or light yellow glasses of the type made by NoIR, Corning or SolarShield.
- Replace bathroom lights with full spectrum bulbs as it will help wake you up in the morning, and your body will receive the same effect as natural sunlight. And the whiteness of the light makes you look more natural, as you do in sunlight.
Several research studies show that children in classrooms with full spectrum lighting tend to have fewer colds, grow faster, have less cavities, better school attendance and achievement, and are calmer, including the hyperactive.
- Use halogen lamps for spot lighting and accent. Powerful and good for general illumination, tungsten-halogen lamps emit a bright, white light close to daylight in quality.
Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder. She’s the author of Healing Homes: How to create a unique, relaxing, natural, and healthy sensory haven, Loud,Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensory processing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email firstname.lastname@example.org.