With longer summer days fast approaching, more people will be increasing their exposure to natural light over the coming months. With this in mind, we collaborated with nine experts to discuss the varied benefits of natural light, including the topics of mental health, productivity, sleep, and skincare, as well as the energy efficiency aspects and interior styling tips for increasing natural light in your home. Read on to find out more…
Research suggests that vitamin D which is produced from sunshine and natural light impacts bones, muscle, blood pressure, immune function, brain function including mood and cognition and may protect against a range of illnesses. Because it acts like a hormone within our bodies and impacts brain function, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk for mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder and severe mood problems experienced during PMS, insomnia, and anxiety.
Increased exposure to natural light is linked to increased production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is our ‘feel good’ hormone – it acts as a natural mood stabiliser – and helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another. Low levels of serotonin have also been linked to anxiety and depression, so it’s a good idea to boost your access to natural light wherever possible!
Allowing natural light into the home is far superior to using artificial light for our overall health. One of the reasons is that natural light contains all the colours of the rainbow with an intensity and mix of colours that changes throughout the day. These provide the correct cues or information to the light receptors in our eyes that we need to process throughout the day.
You can’t try and replace it with artificial light though – artificial light emits a static spectrum, meaning they cannot change their intensity or mix of colours at any time, so the body misses these important cues when we don’t have access to natural light.
Not only does natural light support and control the physical processes of the body, but it also impacts the mental and hormonal systems of the body, too. These rhythms help us know when to sleep, eat, focus and rest – and these are all vitally important for good mental health!
People who absorb a lot of natural light are known to get better sleep. The light cycle of the sun has a powerful effect on a person’s circadian clock – this natural process is often referred to as our body clock. When interrupted it can impact our mental and psychological functioning, including our ability to sleep, think clearly and regulate blood pressure.
When you understand how this works, you are able to manipulate your light exposure to help get a better night’s sleep. Our circadian rhythm is regulated by our internal 24-hour clock. Light is the most important thing when it comes to syncing our internal body clock with the outside world. Our eye detects the light and dark cycle within our environment and adjusts the body’s circadian rhythm so that the internal and external day coincide.
Therefore, it’s vital that we expose ourselves to natural light as much as we can during the day, or else we run the risk of disrupting our circadian rhythm, which in turn would affect our sleep cycle. Artificial light can actually decrease levels of melatonin, a hormone that is created in the brain by the pineal gland which is critical for our body’s health due to its control over our circadian rhythms.
As we know, sleep and mental health go hand-in-hand; the more sleep you get, the more time your body and mind have to reset and rejuvenate. However, there isn’t exactly a recommended amount of natural light people should aim to get, as we all have different circadian rhythms and require different amounts of sleep. However, it is widely recognised that anywhere between 30-45 minutes of direct natural light a day should help improve the state of sleep you have.
Typically, you should aim to keep all of your light exposure from the moment you want to wake up, to around 2 hours before you want to go to sleep. Whilst natural light in the daytime can improve your sleep at night, it’s important that your sleep is not disrupted by lights in the evening. This is because natural light has the ability to make your body more alert and awake – therefore, any major natural light exposure right before bed will cause your body to stay awake for longer. It’s good to wind down and turn off any mobile devices before bed as well. As a general rule, it is best to sleep in as much darkness as possible. Pitch darkness reduces potential distractions and disruptions to sleep.
With the rise in people working from home over the last two years, and with many now working flexibly, having natural light in the home is an important factor in being as productive as possible.
As discussed, exposure to natural light can aid better sleep, energy levels, and happiness. If we get sunlight first thing in the morning, it can set a better mood for the day ahead and increase the benefits of sleep for the night ahead. However, regular sunlight also improves sleep productivity and thus leads to improvement in life and mindset in general.
People who are exposed to more natural light tend to feel more engaged, are more likely to work a full schedule, and are generally happier as they go about their work. This means that they will likely stay focused on the tasks for longer and are happier to collaborate with other team members, and this increase in engagement and collaboration tends to result in more productivity and success.
Making the most of natural light means we maximise our energy so if we have a desk near a window, have a view to break away from the screen and look out onto then this helps us with productivity. If you can factor the deepest or most important work you have to do into the lightest hours, you’ll be as productive as possible.
If your light levels are low or you are sitting in a small study without good natural light then make sure you take regular breaks to look out of the window, take a walk or get fresh air then you can approach your work tasks afresh each time.
Natural light creates Vitamin D, which contributes to skin cell growth, repair, and metabolism. It enhances the skin’s immune system and helps to destroy free radicals that can cause premature aging. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy.
However, too much natural light can be a bad thing for your skin – excessive exposure to sunlight can lead to sunburn, can cause skin becomes less elastic, cause wrinkles and fine lines, and raises risk of skin cancer. To protect your skin against these dangers, whilst still reaping the vitamin D benefits, always wear SPF (everyday – the clouds don’t stop the UV rays), remember to reapply SPF throughout the day, wear sunglasses, and limit your time in direct sunlight (take a break and sit in the shade).
Utilization of sunlight can save you money on your energy bill by reducing the need to use light fixtures around your home – recent studies have found that making use of natural light can save up to 75 percent of the energy used for lighting buildings, also reduce cooling costs.
In particular, north-facing and south-facing windows are the most effective for this – north-facing windows let in an even amount of light without glare, whereas south-facing windows are great for moderating seasonal temperatures – but this also works for rooflights (particularly in the middle of the day when the sun is higher).
We also have the option to incorporate triple glazing to further enhance the thermal efficiency and performance. All these measures ensure that our customers can have comfort that their rooflights meet or surpass the requirements set out by British Standards and Building Regulations.
Natural light is the key to having a home look and feel luxurious – we have seen an increased number of visitors from new build enquiries to property renovators looking to improve the lighting and space in their homes.
When it comes to owning your home, you’ll have more options to play around with than a renter would. You can install larger windows and doors, or even walk-on rooflights to bring natural light into basements and cellars. Installing rooflights is an effective way to bring in more daylight and they also extend your view to the sky, so you get a space that feels both more spacious and brighter. Skylights are also great for installing with a loft conversion to add a lot of natural light to your new room.
When you are renting a property (or if you don’t want to do any major renovations), then you can opt for simpler methods. To make the most of natural light in the home, opt for a cooler colour palette – neutral and earthy tones are a popular choice this season! Lighter colours help keep a room bright rather than absorb light which sometimes happens with darker shades. But make sure not to use brilliant white paint on walls as this can make a space feel cold, it’s better to use an off-white shade as this will provide a much warmer effect.
If you’re working with a small space, place a mirror opposite the window to reflect the light and avoid big, boxy furniture that blocks light, too. Trim any trees, bushes or climbing plants that are growing around your doors and windows in your garden which might be blocking the light, and whilst you’re outside give your windows a thorough clean to ensure as much light is coming in.
With these simple tips you can easily use natural light to create the illusion of space in any room.
With thanks to the nine experts who gave their views for this article, including: