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We are the indoor generation. Today, we live almost 90% of our lives indoors. We have sheltered ourselves from natural sunlight, most of the time. We can not imagine our home and office spaces without electric lights and electronic devices. We have regulated our homes and offices with fluorescent lights. Air conditioners and thermostats control the best suitable temperature for our working and relaxing.
But the more we get dependent on tech, the more we lose our touch with nature. And what happens when we lose this precious touch with the world outside? The first casualty is our sleep.
For centuries, the human body has accustomed itself to the light and dark cycle defined by solar days. From Babylonian kings to Greek physicians to current-day American doctors, everyone has advised sunlight as the ultimate remedy. Be it physical or mental illnesses or interpersonal and group bonding, being out in the sun can make things better for everyone.
Sunlight also helps calibrate our internal body clocks. It regulates our appetite, digestion, moods, and concentration. And most important, it blocks the release of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone which is a way of telling our bodies that the day has started.
Most important of all, sunbathing boosts Vitamin D’s supply in our bodies which in turn improves our bone density and immune system.
Yes, it can. As the majority of us shifted to 'work from home' culture in the last couple of years, spending less time in sunlight messed up with our sleeping patterns. Lack of a routine and less socialization (when was the last time you went for a picnic on a sunny day) has made it harder for us to relax. Even going for a walk or our regular commute to offices used to expose us to a good amount of sunlight.
The connection between sleeping patterns and sunlight was further established in 2001 by Dr Kazuo Mishima from Japan. He did research on 10 nursing home residents who were suffering from insomnia. His elderly patients exposed themselves to 4 hours of bright light for 4 weeks during the daytime. The extra light improved their night sleep.
So if proper sunlight can improve the chances of better sleep in the elderly, why is it so that our working population finds themselves unable to sleep.
Consider this - the illumination in a typical office is between 100 and 300 lux. Now, compare it with outside on a typical overcast day, and it will still be 10-20x of those indoor lights. What does it mean for your body?
A daily outing in the morning sun for at least 1-2 hours can increase the serotonin level in your body. Serotonin is a hormone within our body that improves our mood and focus.
Recommended normal dosage is 2,500 lux for a few hours or a higher dose of 10,000 lux for 20-30 minutes can do wonders for you. In fact, for every 100 lux increase in average daylight, your sleep efficiency increases by almost 1%. With all this great knowledge about sleep and light, you might want to try to live for weeks in only candlelight – no bulbs, no screens like Linda Geddes did, just saying :)
Have you ever noticed that as the seasons change, your moods swing too? You would hush it as another Seasonal Affective Disorder, but the feeling of sadness and lethargy is real. And it happens when you spend more time indoors or when the sky is gloomy and overcast.
As you get less and less natural light, it disturbs your body's metabolism and natural rhythm. You might think of resuming your anti-depressants. But try this once, go out and just have fun in the sun. The high level of serotonin generated in the sunlight acts as a natural anti-depressant boosting a dose of happiness in your mind.
So what are the alternatives when the sun is not visible during winter? In that scenario, you can get sunlight therapy lamps. These lamps produce high levels of natural light without any UV radiation. Also known as lightboxes, the luminance level of these lamps is as good as outdoor sunlight.
Keep the lamp around 16 to 18 inches from your face. Consult your doctor for exact usage, but as a thumb rule, you can use it for 15-30 minutes a day. If you are sensitive to light or have an eye condition, you should avoid these lamps.
You can carry these mini suns around to cheer you up, even in a gloomy winter season. But remember, there is no alternative to natural sunlight. So soak it all while the sun shines.
And when the summer comes, be ready. The first best part about summer is being on the beach. And the second best part is the insane amount of vitamin D you get in just 10-20 minutes of outdoor sunlight exposure. For the same amount of vitamin D, you need to be out for almost 2 hours in the winter season.
That's why you need to be extra cautious in summer. Especially when you are hanging out by a pool or a beach, make sure that you have placed yourself in the shade. If you are wearing hats, make sure they are the wide-brimmed ones. If possible, limit your direct exposure during the peak temperature, which could be between 10 am and 4 pm. Usually, UV rays are in full force in the middle of the day, so you have to take care of your eyes as well. Keep UV or polarized sunglasses handy. The most important part of this safety pack is your sunscreen.
Sunscreen lotions should be the most important item in your backpack when you go for that much-needed tan. Make sure that your sunscreen is from a good brand that is non-toxic and benzene free, and has an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or more. Keep applying after every 1-2 hours, especially after a swim or a short beach volleyball session.
This is one question that every person who is outdoors should ask. But it also depends on the location and your skin type. The major concern from sunbathing is the risk of exposing oneself to UV rays.
Contrary to popular opinion, UV rays are not at their peak during the summer heat. While it is true that UVB radiation gains its strength from the distance and angle of the sun from the earth, one can face it in the winter season as well. So even when you are skiing in the Alps or swimming in Hawaii, or simply chilling on a Caribbean beach, UV rays can affect you.
The best way is to check the UV index before you go out. Or rather, check how sensitive your skin could be against UV rays. As you reach an area with a higher UV index, you need to protect yourself. In general, UV rays are at their strongest from 11 AM to 3 PM. But if it's a cloudy day, you can still be out without thinking much about UV exposure. But you still need to be mindful.
Because this is the best form of sunlight you get. When the light is golden, and birds are chirping, when you can feel the breeze in your hair; that is the time to get up and go out. Morning sunlight could be the most magical thing we witness on this planet. This magnificent light has the ability to make our dark nights more meaningful. The warmth of the morning sun on your back reflects in the calmness of your sleep.
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Call it the happiness hormone or Serotonin, call it the sleep hormone or Melatonin; they are both the balance of your body. And every morning, whenever you wake up and make sure that you go out to look at the wonder that this sunny world is; you will be at ease when the night comes.