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The Benefits of Full Spectrum Lighting

Does the lack of sunlight in the winter influence your mood? Does extended time at a computer make you fatigued or irritable? Do you feel sleepy and fatigued at work? You are not alone. We spend an inordinate amount of time indoors, under artificial light. Wintertime can be especially challenging, as our exposure to natural daylight is reduced. Just like clean air and water, our bodies need natural daylight, it can be as important as any nutrient. Extensive research indicates that we need at least 2 hours of light exposure each day to function normally. When it starts to get gray and dreary outside, or when we spend too much time under fluorescent light, our bodies respond to this change. Our productivity and sense of well being can be compromised.

Both the color and intensity of light matter, as each can influence our human biorhythms and impact our health and well-being. When we are exposed to the dimness or "whiteness" of artificial fluorescent lights, as well as when we lack natural daylight, our pineal glands can over produce melatonin. This indicates to our body it is time to go to sleep. This can increase both mental and physical fatigue. We just donít feel "sharp". Some people just do not get the winter blues, but get a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a more serious mood disorder that is characterized by seasonal changes. A deficiency of natural light can lead to SAD. (* See Winter Blues: Norman Rosenthal 1993). Even if you do not suffer from seasonal depression, the quality and quantity of light exposure can impact your health.

Exposure to artificial light has been associated with a decrease in the absorption of calcium, increased fatigue, a decrease in visual acuity, changes in heart rate, blood pressure brain wave patterns, hormonal secretions and natural cyclical rhythms of the body (Dadd 1996 Home Safe Home). Some studies indicate that exposure to artificial light can lead to a decrease in attention span and learning difficulties in children. The good news is that there are solutions to the lack of light in our lives

Full spectrum lighting contains the same color balance as natural sunlight. Having a natural lighting source is important in a variety of settings, especially in the workplace, where artificial lighting and long hours at a computer can compromise our health. Full spectrum light closely simulates the colors found in natural light, hence the term Full Spectrum. Furthermore, full spectrum light sources output a higher intensity of light than regular incandescent bulbs. Full Spectrum lamps can help to lift winter depression and improve mood. If you suffer from SAD, it is generally recommended that you choose high intensity lights.

Seasonal Depression is a more serious mood disorder that is characterized by depression, craving for carbohydrates, lack of energy, mood alterations, changes in eating or sleeping habits. It is more than just feeling a little blue. Extensive research has shown that many people who suffer with SAD can be greatly aided by the use of high lux therapeutic light boxes that deliver the intensity of light needed to stimulate our serotonin production. Light boxes are usually utilized for 20-30 minutes per day as a means of combating seasonal depression. Check with your doctor on whether you should try light therapy. Insurance companies are now starting to pay for these devices, so check into it!

1. Look for opportunities to rearrange your home or office to maximize your exposure to natural light. For example, can the breakfast table be moved closer to a window? Can you move your bed to face east? Replace white fluorescent with full spectrum, especially in office settings, kitchens and where ever you spend a good amount of time.

2. Even when it is gray outside, there is still beneficial light coming through. Take a daily walk, find a winter sport or simply sit out on your porch. Do not forget to say hi to the neighbors while you are at it.

3. Consider using a full spectrum light box for illumination. If you feel you suffer with SAD, consider a high lux box as a therapeutic solution.

Other readings:
1. Fight the Winter Blues: Don't Be Sad: Your Guide to Conquering Seasonal Affective Disorder, by Celeste A. Peters. Script Publishing Inc., 1994
2. Winter Depression, by Angela Smyth. Unwind Paperbacks, London, 1990
3. The Light Book, by Jane Wegscheider Hyman. Ballantine Books, New York, 1990.

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