While it’s hard not to notice the brilliant display of colors set off by a sunset over the water, we seldom consider the biological, or even psychological, benefits of light.
“It is my belief that good quality light in our daily lives is far more important than we might think,” writes Karl Ryberg.
In his new book, Living Light: The Art of Using Light For Health And Happiness, Ryberg brings us his life’s work — studying the obvious and not so obvious ways in which light affects us and how we can use light in our lives not only function better, but feel better.
Light, we know, plays an important role in seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Ryberg writes, “Research has (also) shown that lack of light in the wintertime has as impact on the part of the brain that produces serotonin, that mood regulator essential for our well-being.”
Moreover, exposure to electric light — as oppose to natural sunlight — confuses our circadian rhythms. Ryberg points to a study that exposed a group of people to a week of camping without artificial light followed by a week of camping with electric light: “The team of researchers found that levels of melatonin, the hormone that is triggered in the pineal gland in our brains to make us feel sleepy, were slower to drop in the mornings with those exposed to electric light, making them feel groggy for longer.”
Interestingly, animal studies have also linked exposure to twenty-four hour light to a host of problems including loss in muscle tone and bone density. And too much artificial light also affects our health. “Our reliance on electric lighting is impacting our health in so many ways, from poor sleep and weight gain to a range of other health issues,” writes Ryberg.
While arguments for use of artificial light often cite increased productivity, Ryberg points to a study of schoolchildren in Fresno, California who, when exposed to natural light, performed 20 percent better.
Employees in offices with windows also fare better — from improved sleep quality and efficiency to improved measures of quality of life.
Yet in today’s 24-hour world, we are often exposed to too much blue light, screen flicker, and bad quality lighting, an effect that can lead to macular degeneration. Ryberg writes, “If the macula is damaged or degenerates, as in old age, central vision, and especially color vision, will be impaired.”
One step we can take, Ryberg notes, is to use the 20-20-20 rule, which calls for looking away from the computer for 20 seconds every 20 minutes at an object that is 20 feet away.
We can also fit computers with anti-glare monitors, use the nighttime setting on our mobile phones, keep the computer at least 20-40 inches from our face, and beware of the impact of blue light on our children’s retinas.
The value of natural light is often underestimated, especially in the case of UV light, which has been shown to be able to disinfect water, destroy the formation of DNA linkages to microorganisms, and improve a number of conditions from psoriasis to cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
Ryberg writes, “Sunlight increases general circulation and improves elimination of accumulated cellular waste products. It’s a very efficient detoxifier.”
For those who do choose to spend time in the sun, Ryberg provides some helpful tips such as applying sunscreen every couple of hours, choosing an SPF of 30 or higher, and replacing sunscreen bottles every year.
Protecting the eyes from too much artificial light is also important, and for this Ryberg suggests “eye yoga” which includes exercises such as the “horizontal sweep” where the eyes are moved from right to left in 14 full circles.
On the subject of lighting in the home, Ryberg offers numerous helpful tips such as using energizing colors to promote activity and soothing hues to encourage calm.
One tip that seems particularly counterintuitive is to avoid painting a room white to brighten it up. Ryberg writes, “Don’t be fooled into painting a gloomy space white to light it — sometimes this can make it look grubby; white ironically often looks best in an already-bright space where the sunlight bounces off it.”
Eating a “light” diet, full of foods like spinach, kale, pumpkins, carrots, beets, berries, avocadoes, coconuts, olives, yogurt, green tea, fennel, and turmeric can also have numerous health benefits from improved eye and brain health to healthier skin and blood.
He writes, “As a rule of thumb, look for vegetables and fruit that have been naturally grown under plentiful sun and haven’t been forced in any way — consuming them is an indirect way of eating phototonic energy.”
Full of simple tips and insightful discoveries, Living Light is a brilliant exploration of the well-lit world we know live in and how to navigate our way to through it — and even harness it for our well-being. It will likely have you making several changes to your world!
Living Light: The Art of Using Light for Health and Happiness
Atria/Enliven Books, February 2019
Paperback, 138 pages