We all instinctively feel how bright light on a bright day can lift our spirits, improve our mood and outlook on life and make us feel more energised. But recent research reveals that different wavelengths of light have even more direct and far-reaching benefits on our health than previously realised.
The full spectrum of red, blue and ultraviolet light is increasingly being shown to have profound effects on both our physical and mental health, and new fields of medicine such as Optogenetics (which uses light), is showing promise as a treatment for Parkinsons. Darkness is being used experimentally for the treatment of mania, blue light has been successfully used in the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder, and infrared light has been shown scientifically to reduce pain and heal soft tissue injuries faster. In this post, I’ll share eight ways we can all use light for the benefit of our health.
*NB: As people's individual needs for exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D vary, I'd suggest talking with your doctor first, who can advise on appropriate levels and suggest any appropriate tests.
1) Blue light early in the morning will help set your circadian rhythm (body clock). A strong, healthy and well functioning circadian rhythm has recently been linked with all sorts of health benefits; including improved cognitive function and the ability to get restful sleep. Since I discovered the benefits of early morning light, I’ve been going up to the roof terrace in my warm winter coat and gloves on to drink morning tea outside, like a mad woman! The blue sky and bright winter sunshine on a clear day is also a great mood booster! 2) You can boost your circadian rhythm by turning the lights down low in the evening, this darkness will stimulate the release of the hormone Melatonin, which will help you feel sleepy and get a good night's rest. Almost half of our genes are under circadian control, and a disrupted body clock has recently been linked to all sorts of issues: of depression, insomnia, lethargy, obesity, heart disease and even type II diabetes. 3) If you tend to get the winter blues, you could also try using an SAD light, such as the Lumie 'bright light'. Lumie advises being quite close in proximity, and using it for around 15 minutes a day. (NB: If you suffer from an eye condition like Macular Degeneration, you may want to consult an optician before increasing your exposure blue light). 4) Sunshine exposure promotes the release of endorphins (the feel good hormones your body manufactures when you exercise), and Serotonin which both lift your mood. In recent years, one Norwegian town, Rjukan, which receives very little light in Winter, dealt with the issue by installing vast mirrors above the town to deflect the sun and boost the mood of the local population. You could try exercising outdoors (perhaps in the park) as opposed to your regular indoor gym, to boost your exposure to light. Biomechanics specialist, Katie Bowman, suggests taking phone calls whilst outside walking, to gain more movement in the day and exposure to outside light. 5) Sunshine provides us with vitamin D (which many people in the UK are critically lacking in the winter months). As individual requirements and needs for vitamin D vary from person-to-person, it would be wise to consult your doctor about your own exposure. It is possible to supplement with vitamin D, (a conservative dose seems to be around 1000iu, and a qualified nutritionist can advise). Vitamin D is also available in smaller amounts through food sources, like fresh salmon, eggs and mushrooms. Mushrooms will even produce more vitamin D if left out in the bright sunshine!
6) Sunshine is naturally antibacterial and in the past was used as a treatment for Tuberculosis, and various skin conditions. See if bacterial skin conditions improve by increasing brief exposure to sunlight, or make use of the antibacterial benefits by hanging laundry up to dry outside.
7) Flux is a downloadable app that will set your laptop on a timer to gradually fade out and fading blue light. Fading down the light on your devices in the evening will stimulate the release of Melatonin and prepare your body to sleep. Consider a 'cut-off' of no emailing or screen time after 21.00.
8) Research over the last 5 to 10 years shows that infrared light, including near infrared and far infrared, can be beneficial for healing soft tissue injuries, reducing pain and stiffness, improving circulation and reducing inflammation. It's worth noting that both natural sunlight and natural wood fires contain infrared; But again, in a modern contemporary lifestyle, we're not often exposed to these forms of light and warmth. You can try purchasing a home device, but the most powerful therapeutic red light devices (such as lasers) are expensive and currently only available in specialist clinics. I can personally recommend Kinesis rehab clinic in Guildford. (No affiliation!) Who were instrumental in helping me overcome a soft tissue injury!
For more information, check out the highly recommended books "Chasing the Sun: The new science of sunlight and how it shapes our bodies and minds (Wellcome Collection)' by Linda Geddes, 'Why we sleep' by neuroscientist Matthew Walker, And 'The ultimate guide to red light therapy', by Ari Whitten, all of which contain a large number of links to scientific studies.
If you'd like help with insomnia, pain management, or you're experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder), you can get in touch, as hypnotherapy has been proven to reduce pain, effectively combat insomnia, and SAD associated anxiety and depression.
Let me know in the comments below any other helpful ways you've found to use light! Happy light hunting and happy January!
This blog is intended to entertain & inform, please consult your doctor before commencing any kind of treatment.