Brighter Days Outside and In

Brighter Days Outside and In

This year more than ever we are looking forward to longer and brighter days. What is it about spring and daylight that makes us feel happier?

Spring is a time of new growth and indicates new beginnings. Now spring has arrived in the northern hemisphere, I feel myself looking forward, and more eager to leave behind the dark days of winter and the symbolism that goes with it. For many the spring sunshine offers relief from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and most of us appreciate the lift in mood the brighter and longer days bring.

During the winter months our bodies produce more melatonin than in summer and this goes part of the way in explaining why we then feel sleepy or lethargic. To counter this effect (and keep our circadian rhythm in sync) it is important to get up and outside in the morning to catch the sunlight because early morning rays switch off the production of melatonin. This sends a signal to the brain it’s time to be alert and active. Keeping a regular routine with meals, as well as getting some morning light will help your brain know it’s time to rest at night and improve your mood.

Many of us feel happier and lighter when the sun is shining, although we may feel this is due to an association with holidays and fun times. However, a trial in 2016 by University of British Columbia, Vancouver showed that light therapy had notable benefits, and was just as effective as an anti-depressant in treating depression. It’s one of a few promising studies, and of course we always need some sunlight to generate Vitamin D, which is important for absorbing vital minerals including calcium and phosphorous and helps our immune system. Even if you are not feeling strong or able to move too far, a little sunshine may lift your mood.

So, how much sunlight do we need? Light, or rather luminance levels, measured in lumens per square metre (lux) are the magic numbers we need to track. When I found out I could download a light reading app, I was keen to compare inside and outside lux levels for myself and experiment. I was surprised at the stark difference between being outside on a cloudy day 5,000 lux, and the reading inside beside my bright window of only 300 lux. The benefits of exercise and walking are well documented, but it does seem there are many ways we can benefit from simply being out in daylight. It’s a lux lifestyle that we can all enjoy and afford!

 

The arrival of spring also reminds me of the cyclical nature of life which I find reassuring. This winter has been challenging in many ways, but like many, I am ready to venture out tentatively at first and discover the new season. And like the new shoots and buds that are appearing around us I am ready to grow, branch out and enjoy the day’s sunshine.