With the winter months upon us, the days short and the nights long, all of us are scrambling to get a bit of sunlight when we can. A lack of sunlight can be detrimental to anybody’s health, and experts are rallying to bring attention to its effects.
A majority of people living in the Netherlands are not getting enough sunlight as they are spending much of their time indoors (let’s face it, it can get too cold to go outside). Basically, the amount of light most of us get is just not enough to keep up with daily life.
How does a lack of light affect our health?
It ruins our quality of sleep and makes us feel more sluggish. In more severe cases, it could lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression.
We have an organ called the hypothalamus which maintains the homeostasis (balance and stability) of the body. It also regulates the hormonal balance in our brain. When we don’t receive enough sunlight, this organ starts to function improperly, which in turn causes a hormonal imbalance, leading to symptoms of depression. There is a drop in serotonin levels, the brain chemical which affects your mood. Melatonin levels (the hormone which monitors your sleep cycles) are affected by the change in seasons, where darkness produces more of the hormone, thus inducing sluggishness.
These imbalances in your body obviously do not let you function at your best. “It is not so much about sleeping longer, but about the quality of sleep,” chronobiologist Marijke Gordijn from University Medical Center Groningen tells RTL Nieuws. “How fast you fall asleep, how often you wake up during the night and how deep you sleep; the quality of your sleep has a huge effect on your body.”
How does the poor quality of sleep affect your health?
Gordijn says that these hormonal imbalances increase the risk of obesity. She explains, “there are direct connections between your eyes and the brain that controls your mood. Insufficient light influences your mood negatively and can even lead to depression.”
How much light do we need?
Gordijn and her colleagues have conducted three studies to establish how much sunlight we would need in a day to function better. According to the Working Conditions Act, your work desktop needs to emit light of 500 lux. But she disagrees and says it has to be at least 1000 lux, which is equivalent to the light we get on a cloudy day. “We also know that the employees of offices where artificial light is simulated daylight sleep better,” she says. They also perform better as they are in better spirits.
How can you avoid SAD?
Gordijn says you have to find ways to get the light fix your body requires to function at an optimum level. She advises to go out for a walk or jog for at least half an hour every morning between 8 am and 9 am. Try sitting close to a window to bask in any natural light. If that is not possible, get stronger lamps which mimic sunlight.
Finally, brave the cold, get out there, and stay active. Layer up and get those muscles moving even if your brain is telling you otherwise!
Living with seasonal depression in the Netherlands can be hard. How do you cope with it? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Francesca Zama/Pexels
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2019, and was fully updated in January 2021 for your reading pleasure.