mahabis lifestyle // embracing winter light
Once the clocks have gone back and the days begin to shorten, it's easy to feel less energetic. As the evenings draw closer, and darkness seems to strike earlier every day, many of us can sympathise with feeling a little stricken by the winter blues.
Naturally, humans require a certain quantity and intensity of light in order to set their internal body clocks; to feel awake and refreshed during the daytime hours, and to fall asleep at night. Exposure to this natural light helps to keep us energised, whilst dim lights are seen as a cue to sleep. So when it's cold and gloomy in the winter mornings, it's understandable that bed seems more difficult to leave than usual.
During December and January it's easy to see how some can almost escape natural daylight entirely, entering and leaving the office in darkness. The effect of natural light on the body is complex, yet important to understand in order to push through the winter both positively and productively.
Portland-based clinical psychologist, Brian Thompson, PhD, puts this down to 'circadian rhythms'. These are effectively controlled by a "master" clock in the brain, that cues us to sleep in darkness and awake in light. When these rhythms shift, or are unbalanced, it can prompt seasonal mood swings and lethargy.
"What cues our circadian rhythm is daylight. When the daylight hits our eyes—it sends a signal into the brain. What researchers believe is that as the days grow shorter and darker, we don't have the daylight cues that we should be up and awake, and this 24-hour [schedule] gets desynchronized. We are up and supposed to be active-but the brain is sending a signal that we should be tired and lethargic."
This is amplified by the balance of certain hormones in the body. When we spend more time in darkness, and less frequently time in daylight, the balance of melatonin and serotonin is shifted. Exposure to natural light during the day benefits not only our alertness and mood, but also our productivity and creativity. So, how can you try to stay unphased by the winter light, and embrace the day from dawn through 'til dusk?
Over here in the UK, we are exposed to an average 16.5 hours of daylight during July, and only an average of 8 hours in December. Whilst we adapt to half the amount of daylight, regions further North have even more polar extremes.
In some latitudes, regions experience 'polar nights' where the sun is below the horizon for entire weeks on end. These areas see the sun situated at a low angle in the sky for up to a third of the year, limiting the availability of direct sunlight during this time. Locals there tend to be more sensitive to the light, and make the most of every opportunity to get outdoors and soak up the sun during the summer months.
The city of Kiruna in Northern Sweden can experience 24 hour darkness come January. But the lack of light doesn't equate to a lack of activity in the city. Indoor sports become rife, as do dinner parties, late-night museums, and trips to see the Northern Lights.
As well as making the most of time indoors, and accepting the darker evenings and shorter days, there are other ways to embrace the winter and trick the brain...
Daylight simulation lamps and light boxes can be used whilst sleeping, to wake you up naturally with a gradual increase in light that mimics the natural light of dawn. New lighting technology that is currently in development will use OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) to create light-producing window blinds that will create the illusion of the sun rising when your alarm clock goes off in the morning.
Natural ways of helping your body adjust to the winter light are as simple as ensuring that you are exposed to bright light as soon as you wake in the morning. Stick to bright white lights for the best effect, and ensure that you get ready for the day and eat breakfast in well-lit rooms.
Take a lesson from the people of Kiruna and make the most of the daylight hours, and find new ways to embrace downtime indoors.
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