How to use light therapy and benefits. In autumn, it’s not just the days that get darker. With them, our mood also darkens. The lack of daylight in the dark months affects many processes in our bodies. The sleep-wake cycle, for example, hormone production, feeling hungry, and performance. Read here how you can bring more light into your days with light therapy.
We especially notice how important sunlight is for us when we lack it. In winter the sun shines only half as long and less brightly than in summer. Those who work in front of the computer are particularly affected by the lack of light. When he goes to work, the sun hasn’t risen yet. If he goes home after work, it is already dark again. That upsets the internal clock. Sleep disorders and depressive moods can be the result.
When daylight falls on our retina in the morning, the pineal gland in the brain receives the signal to reduce the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and to increase that of the wakefulness serotonin. If we have to get up in winter when it’s still dark outside, that won’t happen. We are more tired and less motivated.
In the course of evolution, our body has adapted to the day-night rhythm as a clock. The “blue light” in particular has an impact on our bodies. This is light with a specific, short wavelength. For us humans, this part of the light is visible in contrast to ultraviolet radiation. It is often perceived as cool white and causes our body to release serotonin as well as the “stress hormone” cortisol. In studies, artificial cool white lighting actually caused hyperactivity and increased irritability in students.
However, natural daylight with a high proportion of blue has a more gentle effect: it just wakes us up. The proportion of blue light is particularly high in the morning hours. In the course of the day its share then decreases, that of the red one increases. This signals to our body that evening is coming. We get tired.
Our body also needs light to produce vitamin D. For this, however, it is not crucial that light gets into our eyes, but that the sun shines on our skin. This is why some people are vitamin D deficient in winter. However, our bodies can store the vitamin. Anyone who has been outside sufficiently in summer should therefore be well looked after during the winter.
As a result of the lack of light in autumn and winter, our body produces
- the so-called “happiness hormone” serotonin only in small quantities
- more of the “sleep hormone” melatonin
- less of the “stress hormone” cortisol
- less vitamin D.
Consequences of this can be
- Gloomy mood
- Food cravings and weight gain
- sleep disorders
Some people are particularly sensitive to the lack of light. You develop the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), colloquially known as “winter depression”.
What does light therapy do?
After the morning shower for personal hygiene, take a light shower for a good mood? This can actually be a good idea. If you are unable to spend time outside during the day and/or have a very low mood, light therapy may help. Studies have shown that artificial light actually works. This is why light therapy is used in patients with seasonal affective disorders (winter depression). Success usually occurs within a few days.
Light therapy can cause our bodies to produce more serotonin and less melatonin. It can help make us more alert and in a better mood. However, it does not increase the body’s production of vitamin D. So we should still go out into the fresh air.
You can do light therapy in some doctor’s offices. In the meantime, however, special daylight lamps that you can easily use at home are also relatively cheap. You can read, work, or have breakfast while sitting in front of the lamp. Let’s see How to use light therapy at home and benefits.
See also, Vitamin D How important to our body
Tips for light therapy at home:
- A daylight lamp should have at least 2,500, ideally 10,000 lux.
- Sit about one meter away from the lamp (depending on the manufacturer’s instructions)
- Allow 0.5 to 2 hours each day for light therapy (0.5 hours at 10,000 lux, 2 hours at 2,500 lux).
- The best time of day is in the morning, as this usually corresponds to the internal clock.
- You should keep your eyes open during therapy so that the light can reach the retina.
It is ideal to take a “light shower” every morning, for example during breakfast or while working. If you sit down in front of the daylight lamp later in the day, you risk having problems falling asleep in the evening. The light must be able to fall on the retina of the eyes. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – look directly into it.
Do daylight lamps pose a risk?
A daylight lamp has no tanning effect. Thus, it does not have the risks associated with UV rays such as an increased risk of skin cancer. In contrast, the tanning salon works with the ultraviolet light spectrum. It is not suitable for light therapy.
However, there are certain illnesses in which you should avoid using daylight lamps. Caution should also be exercised when taking certain medications. Therefore, talk to your doctor beforehand about whether light therapy is suitable for you.
In addition, you must not look directly into the lamp from a short distance for too long, as this could damage your eyes.
Side effects such as headaches, burning eyes, and irritability may occur but often go away after the first few days of treatment. If side effects occur, you can reduce the lighting duration.
Warning: If you are in a clouded mood in winter, light therapy may help. However, depression always needs medical treatment.
More tips: How to use light therapy and benefits
In winter just stay in bed until it is light and shut down active life, make a kind of “hibernation light” – that would be it. Presumably, our ancestors did the same. Unfortunately for us modern people this is not an option, although our body is also in an energy-saving mode in winter. We have other options for shedding light on the darkness.
The body receives up to 100,000 lux on a summer day. In winter when the sky is overcast, there are only around 2,500 to 3,500. But even then, it’s worth a walk. Because that is still a multiple of what reaches us in closed rooms with artificial light (around 200 to 300 lux in living rooms). If possible, use your lunch break to get some fresh air and soak up natural light.
In order to produce vitamin D, our body needs UVB rays from the sun. Artificial light is not enough for this. If you don’t have enough vitamin D, you can take it in tablet form. However, tablets are often dosed too high. A blood test can show whether there is any need. The doctor can then recommend vitamin D in the correct dosage.
Tips to get your body going
- Walk for at least 30 minutes each day
- Spend your lunch break outside
- Go out on the weekend too. Even when the weather is bad
- Let yourself be woken up with a daylight alarm clock
- Do sport – if possible outdoors
- If possible: place your desk by the window
Autumn and winter are not only dark, but they can also be very cozy. Use the time for yourself: with tea, lots of candles and good books.
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