Many people find it hard to get through the winter. At this time of year, when the days are short and the air outside can have a vicious bite (particularly in our southern regions), it can be hard to work up the will to get outside and soak up some sunlight. However, that’s exactly what scientists are telling us we need to do to improve our physical and mental health.
Research shows that modern life undermines our health by keeping us indoors, lit by dim artificial light. In previous centuries, before the invention of gas and then electric lighting, we spent more time outdoors and the only artificial like we were exposed to was from a roaring open fire or the flickering of oil lamps. Many more of our waking hours were spent outside. From a historical perspective, hat’s what our body clocks are used to.
Our biological rhythms work best if they experience extremes of darkness and brightness. However, the average Australian spends the vast majority of their time indoors, meaning they absorb less natural light in the day and more artificial light at night. Several studies have indicated that these changes to our light exposure are linked to sleep disturbances and changes to our circadian rhythms with consequences to our mental and physical health. Levels of Vitamin D in many people are low with consequences for our immune and cardiovascular systems as well.
When we are not feeling mentally and physically our best, we tend to make unhelpful decisions — for example, about how much we gamble, drink or take drugs. These are all artificial and expensive means of improving our mood.
The good news from research is that even small increases in your exposure to bright light during the day can have a wide range of benefit, such as improvements in your sleep and mood or helping you recover from serious illness.
While there is still much to learn about how much light we actually need, the basic principle seems to be that we all need to brighten our days and darken our nights. After all, we evolved within a 24-hour cycle of light and darkness.
Here are some tips to help you improve the balance of light in your life:
- Investigate the topic of how much light we need on the internet, or talk to your doctor about it.
- Keep a record of the time you spend outside for a week.
- Download an app to measure your own light exposure.
- Optimise your exposure by making small changes to your routines, for example:
- During the day:
- Eat your breakfast outside if possible
- Walk or cycle to work, or go for a short walk in the morning if you spend the day at home
- Swap indoor exercise for outdoor exercise
- Sit next to a window or invest in a very bright desk light!
- During the evening
- Dim the lights using lamps rather than overhead lights
- Minimise your use of blue light emitting devices
- Listen to your body and go to sleep when you start to feel sleepy
- During the day:
- Keep a diary of your mood and notice any changes.
- Keep a diary of your gambling /drinking/drug taking and notice any changes.
If you’ve been feeling gloomy and want to chat about it, have a chat to a Gambling Help counsellor on 1800 858 858 or chat to us online.