How daylight affects your health

Daylight good for health

During the winter and beginning of spring, it may have felt like you were spending every hour with daylight indoors - at work. If you were lucky, you may have been able to get out and get that recommended half an hour of daylight during lunch. Otherwise, it is often mainly during the weekend that we get the opportunity to be outdoors for an extended period of time. While many feel like it is nice to be outside, does it really matter? Does daylight affect your health?

The answer is yes. Daylight effects your health in part through: 

  • Energy
  • Mood
  • Sleep

The importance of daylight for our circadian rhythm 

Daylight is the most important factor for your inner circadian rhythm. This in turn is one of the two factors that regulate our sleep. It is a matter of fact that daylight is of great importance for our sleep. Sometimes we seem to forget that we are actually an animal species; that our modern lives would somehow mean that we do not have to take into account our biological conditions. Things like unwinding in the evening, having healthy habits, getting some daylight during the day, and not getting that bright light from our screens late at night. Sometimes it seems like we think we can ignore these things.

We live in a time that makes it more difficult to follow our biological rhythm. There are simply a lot of things that disturb it. It can be anything from bright lights, stimuli from streaming services and gaming platforms. To online friends in other time zones and much more. Before all this was invented, there were probably fewer who needed to "make an effort" not to get too much light in the evening, or too many stimuli and so on.

This is also apparent in a couple of infamous studies.

The reason they are infamous is that so many love to quote them, despite the studies not being big enough to actually prove anything. However, they are great examples of what we are talking about. No matter if you are a morning person or an evening person. People who venture into nature to sleep in a tent adjusts their circadian rhythm to be in line with sunlight (or natural daylight). They fall asleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. In nature there is no light in the evening. There are no stimuli from the internet or streaming services. Perhaps the participants in the study were sitting around a campfire singing, talking, laughing and having a great time before getting tired and going to bed - without even having a look at the time, thinking "wow, it’s so early/late".

Daylight gives you energy 

In February, the amount of daylight gradually starts to increase. When approaching March, we start to get a splash of daylight in the morning on the way to work, and eventually also a little on the way home. Gradually as the weeks go by, we can get more and more daylight, and by June and July we get the peak amount of daylight per day.

For our bodies, this plays an important role - daylight signals to our body what it needs.

Imagine after only getting daylight around lunchtime for several months and thus walking in the dark (or with indoor lighting) the rest of the time and suddenly, the body receive signals of daylight at seven, half past six and earlier, from the time we wake up. And at the same time, our body may also get daylight when we leave work in the afternoon, which it has not received in many months. Daylight early in the morning or late in the evening seems to affect us more, especially if we do not get a lot of daylight during the day. All this extra light - no wonder it can generate energy and a lust for life. Daylight effects your health!

If you get up at 6:30 in the morning, the sun may already have been up for 2 hours. In February and March, you would get the first light of dawn just as the alarm rings. Now, you will wake up with daylight until October. Do you get up at 6:30 or any other time?

Sunrise

In the figure above, you can see how the sun rises in Stockholm, with clear notches in March and October when we switch between summer and winter time. Here you can find the time of sunrise right where you live.

An important thing about daylight: you get lots of it even on a cloudy day. So you do not have to wait for beautiful weather, as long as you stay outdoors with open eyes, you get your daily dose of daylight, any day.

The light of spring is coming 

As early as in February, we were already at the time of the year where the days were getting longer at our slightly northern latitudes. Especially in March and April, daylight increases rapidly. The difference from one day to another can be over six minutes in Stockholm where I live. Most of us get an energy boost from the increased daylight - we feel lighter and have more desire and energy to do things

Change in daylight

An important thing about daylight: you get lots of it even on a cloudy day. You do not have to wait for beautiful weather, as long as you stay outdoors with open eyes, you get your daily dose of daylight, any day.

Tips for further reading:

Sleep and work performance

Work productivity - The guide on how to improve it

About the Author

MSc in Psychology from Uppsala University, PhD from University of Oxford in workplace stress. Author of five books. Previously researcher at Karolinska Institutet, and Head of Clinic, deputy CEO and director of the board at Stressmottagningen.

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