Doctors and psychologists are only really now beginning to understand how light can effect our emotions and moods. A lack of light makes many people feel low and miserable and in some cases can even lead to a form of clinical depression known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is now believed that around 12 million people in Northern Europe actually suffer from this form of depression to some extent. Our bodies are more attuned to the weather and the seasons than we may think. Natural daylight regulates our body clocks and when we eat and when we sleep and also affects our moods and our energy levels. Until a few hundred years ago, most people spent a lot of time out of doors. Working hours were largely determined by daylight hours. People got up and started work at dawn and stopped and slept when it got dark. There was no electricity and lighting in the evening was from candles.
These days most people work in offices with set working hours which are not dependent on the seasons. We no longer take cues from the amount of daylight that nature gives us. Some people have speculated that even though humans obviously don’t hibernate, the winter months were a time when our predecessors were a lot less active. Today, cutting back on our working hours during the winter isn’t an option because life goes on and so do we.
Lack of light causes our bodies to create more melatonin, a hormone which makes you feel sleepy. At the same time, levels of serotonin drop and this is what causes depression. Lights which simulate daylight are available for those who suffer from light-deficiency illnesses. If you find that you feel low during the winter months, one of these lamps can really help to boost your mood. Exercise such as taking a walk outside will help too.
If you feel really depressed and have feelings of despair, you should visit your GP. SAD can actually take a long while to officially diagnose and your doctor will want to eliminate other possibilities.
Lighting can change mood and knowledge of its effects is widely used in interior design, particularly in department stores and restaurants to create a particular ambience or atmosphere. Lighting, especially when it is combined with certain colours, can be used to create all kinds of atmospheres and subliminal messages which can even affect our social behaviours.
When electric lighting first came into our homes, we were delighted to have a single source of light in the centre of the ceiling of each room. Now things have changed. We use wall lights, dimmer switches and uplighters to create different moods in our rooms.
Soft and hard light effects are used in home interior design to add ambience and moods in different rooms. Soft light reduces shadows and is generally restful. Too much soft light in a house, however, can be dull and gloomy and it should be used with hard or direct light to create areas of brightness which emphasise texture and create feelings of activity. Lighting can be used in a house to create feelings of cosiness or to emphasise light and space.
In much the same way that too little light can affect your mood and well-being, too much light can a have a similar effect. We have all heard stories about lighting in workplaces causing illness, particularly fluorescent lighting which has been linked to migraines. Constant bright lighting, including glare on computer screens, is bad for people’s eyesight and can indeed cause illness.
People who live in busy cities are being affected by light pollution. And you don’t have to live in a large city to see the effects of light pollution. Unless you live in a remote area, your view of the night sky is largely obscured by street lighting or light pollution of brightly lit towns and cities. Mostly what we see when we look up at the sky at night these days is an orange glow of reflected street lighting.
Too much light can cause insomnia, anxiety, hypertension and headaches. The best way to reduce the effects of too much light is you can sleep in complete darkness. Turn off all sources of light and don’t fall asleep in front of the TV. Invest in some blackout blinds and some quality curtains from Argos to block out street lights and the orange flow in the sky caused by light pollution.
Whether you are suffering from too much light or too little, there are things you can do. Get plenty of exercise as this can help regulate hormones in your body and try to keep regular hours, going to bed at roughly the same time each night. Try to get plenty of natural daylight but invest in a daylight lamp if you need one.