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Light and Darkness -
Both Are Essential to Your Natural Rhythms

If you like this article:

As daylight patterns shift from the light of receding summer to the darkness of approaching winter, we become more conscious of the waxing and waning of light and darkness. Light and darkness affect your mood, energy levels, weight, hormone levels, sexuality, fertility, and even your life span. Light and darkness are vital to your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health and wellbeing. You need both light and darkness and you need them in a regular pattern if you are to be more connected to your self by your natural rhythms.

We receive light through our eyes. They gather information about shape, color, intensity of light, timing of day and night and relay this information to the brain. We also receive light through our skin, which absorbs light and allows certain wavelengths to penetrate.

Bright natural outdoor light stimulates your pineal glad to make serotonin. Serotonin is an important "feel good" neurotransmitter. Serotonin regulates your feelings of well being and satisfaction. (Read Top Ten Signs That Your Serotonin Levels Are Too Low.) Without adequate levels of serotonin, you may fall into depression.

As the daylight dims, the pineal gland produces less serotonin. And once darkness arrives, it stops releasing serotonin and begins producing melatonin. Melatonin helps to control your biorhythms by controlling the body clock, regulating your sleep/wake cycle, helping you sleep soundly, lowering your blood pressure, influencing sexuality and fertility, boosting immunity, and acting as an antioxidant. Due to its powerful antioxidant properties, healthy melatonin levels are implicated in preventing premature deaths due to heart attacks, cancer, and rapid aging.

At dawn, the approaching light signals the pineal gland to stop making melatonin (melatonin production ceases at only 200-300 lux – very dim light) and to begin again the production of serotonin. As daylight brightens and you are exposed to the natural light, the pineal gland makes more and more serotonin.

Exposure to normal day/light – night/darkness cycles entrain your body clock to its normal rhythm. The body clock influences almost 200 processes in the body including those that effect hunger, energy, blood pressure, body temperature, digestion, physical strength, reaction times, sexual appetite, urine production and brain balance. Without the exposure to normal light /dark cycles, the body clock can go awry and your internal rhythms and physiology can become chaotic.

Daily exposure to light and darkness influences sexuality and fertility and keeps hormones in balance. Sunlight boosts testosterone – a hormone important in increasing sexual desire - in both men and women. (Light shone directly on a man’s scrotum raises testosterone levels more than light shone elsewhere.) Sunlight also boosts estrogen levels, which are needed for vaginal integrity and lubrication. A lack of light seems to reduce fertility and may negatively effect the ability to conceive.

In addition to the pituitary gland, natural light stimulates the hypothalamus and thereby influences the level of almost every hormone in the body. Natural light sends messages to the hypothalamus through the eyes and smaller amounts come through the skull. The hypothalamus balances actions of the autonomic nervous system-which runs the basic body functions. This affects the heart rate, digestion, blood pressure, temperature control, appetite and thirst, fluid balance, stress level, emotions and immunity. The hypothalamus also uses information about light to balance its production of hormones that trigger the release of pituitary hormones such as melanocytestimulating hormone, prolactin, endorphins, and hormones which regulate the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes.

Because of its effect on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, light has been suggested as an effective part of therapy for hormone imbalances such as premenstrual syndrome, thyroid imbalances, polycystic ovaries, and infertility.

The limbic system uses messages about light to help regulate the body’s production of adrenaline and noradrenaline and to influence emotions.

When your skin is exposed to light, it increases the production of antiseptic oils that encourage wound healing. The light exposure on the skin helps lower cholesterol levels and helps produce Vitamin D and testosterone. Light - ultra-violet B - exposure on the skin promotes the production of Vitamin D from cholesterol. Vitamin D is a hormone that is in serious short supply in many people today. Vitamin D affects the health of your bones, brain, breasts, prostate, stomach, colon, pancreas, parathyroid glands, skin, and bone marrow. Vitamin D also decreases muscle weakness and pain, prevents rickets in children, helps prevent osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults, helps prevent tooth decay, reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, lowers blood sugar levels, and reduces insulin resistance. Vitamin D regulates normal cell division and some studies suggest that it reduces the incidence of certain cancers.

Some of the light that hits your skin penetrates very deeply and produces heat in the body. This makes your arteries and veins expand - increasing the supply of oxygenated blood. The blood distributes some of the energy from light on the skin to every part of the body. Light on your skin influences your immunity, guards against certain skin infections and even reaches the brain’s body clock.

Fat loss may be significantly affected by your exposure to sunlight. Bright sunlight is essential to increased energy and metabolism and fat loss. Optimal exposure to light raises your metabolism and spending the day in low light stimulates fat storage. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, it triggers the production of melanocortin. When melanocortin reaches the brain, it suppresses the appetite centers, which speeds up metabolism and promotes fat loss. Melanocortin also stimulates thyroid hormone production, which increases metabolism.

Vitamin D may also be an important factor in weight control. Vitamin D is related to calcium absorption. When there is too little Vitamin D too little calcium may be absorbed. A low calcium level signals the release of calcitrol, which turns off the mechanisms that break down fat and burns it. Calcitrol also activates the mechanisms that make body fat. Light exposure may help elevate metabolism and help normalize weight.

Bright Light

While it is possible to make up for lack of exposure to bright natural light, indoor lighting generally is not bright enough to regulate the necessary effects on your hormones and neurotransmitters. Brightness is measured in lux - with 1 lux being the equivalent of the light from 1 standard candle. Living room light in the evening is about 100 lux with a well-lit room reaching up to 500 lux. Bright indoor light might reach up to 700 lux.

Compare that to natural lighting. Outdoor light at twilight is around 100 lux, a cloudy, rainy day around 2,000 lux, a sunny spring morning around 10,000 lux, a summer day around 60,000 lux and noon on a bright sunny day up to 100,000 lux.

Take Home Message

A lack of exposure to the natural light /darkness cycles can result in hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances, disturb the way the brain responds to neurotransmitters and upset the body clock. You need daily, rhythmic exposure to both natural daylight and to nightly darkness.

Light

Get outside in natural daylight. Spend 20 –30 minutes outside in the morning when you first wake. This has powerful healing effects for your body clock and natural rhythms. As often as you can, spend at least 2 hours outside in natural daylight.

Tips and Precautions

Adjust the exposure according to your skin type and age –older people need more exposure.

Don’t use sunscreen for the entire time you are outside as this blocks the light’s beneficial effects on the skin. Light’s invisible ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths have the most important effects on our health and well being. The UV exposure stimulates Vitamin D production, discourages infections and some skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. UV boosts melanin production and energizes us through our blood.

Don’t get sunburn. And use sunscreen if you will be outside for longer periods. UV intensity is greatest in the summer, between the hours 11 AM to 3 PM (however, some research suggest that the skin makes the most vitamin D during the hours of 11 AM and 2 PM), at high altitudes and in dry, clean air. The downsides to too much UV exposure include: burning, it may trigger skin cancers and some autoimmune disorders such as lupus, and cataracts and age related macular degeneration.

Take your glasses off if you wear glasses for at least part of your time outdoors. The lenses filter out some of the important UV.

Exposure of hands, face, and arms for a little as 5 minutes two or three times a week in spring, summer and autumn may produce enough Vitamin D to last the winter. During the winter in northerly or southerly latitudes, sunlight contains almost no UV.

If you can not go outside sit by a sunny window. Plain glass allows most light wavelengths to pass through, although it does filter out some of the beneficial UV.

Bright, daylight filtered through cloud reduces sunlight’s UV only 20-40% so you still have to be careful to not get sunburned.

Boost the health effect of your indoor electric light by using a full spectrum, flicker free bulb or tube. A daylight bulb is second best to a full spectrum bulb. Use brighter light during the daytime and dimmer light in the evening.

Light therapy - use a light box in the winter that supplies 10,000 lux of full spectrum light with the UV-A and UV-B filtered out. Start with 15-minute exposure when you first wake up and gradually build up to 20-30 minutes. Twenty to forty minutes exposure per day is recommended. Follow manufacture’s directions. Anything over 2 hours exposure may disturb your sleep. It is best to continue to go outside in the morning as long as the weather allows because there are many other benefits to being outside other than light. Happy Light light box is available through Living Arts catalogue www.gaiam.com or 800-254-8464 (no affiliation).

Light exposure may help in the treatment of: eczema, psoriasis, TB, high blood pressure, arterial disease, tooth decay, fibromyalgia, arthritis, osteoporosis, rickets, low libido, PMS, irregular periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fertility difficulties, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, shift-work disruption, jet lag, menstrual migraines, bulimia, Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, obesity, sleep disruptions, convalescence, and multiple sclerosis. Check with your health care provider.

Avoid too much sunlight exposure if you have: premature aging of the skin, skin cancer, cold sores, cataracts, age related macular degeneration, rosacea, lupus or light sensitive migraines.

Avoid too much sunlight exposure if your are taking any light sensitive medications. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Darkness

In the evening keep the lights low or dimmed. Bright lights interfere with raising melatonin levels (the hormone needed in good supply for a good night’s sleep – and more).

Sleep in the dark. Women, especially, need to sleep in the dark without a night-light. Exposure to light at night reduces your production of melatonin (a key hormonal, immune and body synchronization hormone) and interferes with proper immune and hormonal production. If you can see your hand at night with the lights out there is too much light for proper hormonal production. And if you can see your hand in front of your face at night with all the lights turned off there is too much light for good quality sleep. A sleep mask can be a great aid. You may also find it helpful to draw your curtains or use heavy covering for windows that are exposed to artificial street lighting at night.

 

Related Information:

Top Ten Signs That Your Serotonin Levels Are Too Low

Daylight - You Need It (and it's free)

Secrets to Managing Your Energy Effectively

Let There Be Light

© Copyright 1997 - 2008 by Mary Ann Copson and Evenstar. All rights reserved.

About the Author:
Mary Ann Copson is the founder of the Evenstar Mood & Energy Wellness Center for Women. With Master's Degrees in Human Development and Psychology and Counseling, Mary Ann is a Certified Licensed Nutritionist; Certified Holistic Health Practitioner; Brain Chemistry Profile Clinician; and a Health, Wellness and Lifestyle Coach. Reconnect to your physical, emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual natural rhythms at
http://evenstaronline.com

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