Do you ever wonder why the suicide rates are much higher in countries of a northern latitude? And why people are more prone to suffer depression throughout the darker and gloomier winter months? Have you noticed how your mood and energy levels seem to suffer when you find yourself in dingy, darkened spaces with inadequate lighting? And that many times on darker rainy days your mood will be worse than on sunny ones? Many of us have long suspected that the quality of light in our living spaces greatly affects our mood and outlook on life, and now this has been confirmed by science itself.
Studies show that exposure to bright, sunny weather, and living in a house with wide windows that permit a lot of natural light from coming into the house, induce in people a state of greater calm, happiness, cheerfulness, and well-being. Whereas living and working in areas that are poorly lit – or that have only artificial (fluorescent) lighting – and prolonged exposure to gloomy, dark weather contributes to low mood and even anxiety and depression. There is now even a name for this state of depression caused by seasonal lighting changes, it is called seasonal affective disorder or SAD for short.
As for the mechanism behind this phenomenon? Researchers speculate that inadequate lighting condition disrupts our circadian rhythms (changes in our behaviour as well s physical and mental well-being that are primarily dictated by the 24-hour light and darkness cycle), which in turn interferes with our biological clock and a whole host of physiological processes, including activity in the limbic system, the region of the brain associated with mood and affect, and the secretion of certain critical hormones like melatonin that regulate our sleeping patterns. Indeed, one of the main determinants of our mood is whether we are able to fall asleep in the evening and get a sound night’s slumber – and this, in turn, is affected by lighting conditions. Actually, if you want to fall asleep at the right time and awaken the next morning well rested, refreshed and in a good frame of mind, you are encouraged to dim the lights before bed time, as this will make you drowsy and allow you to fall asleep quicker. An adequately lit environment may be crucial to your mood and emotions, but this is only during the day, not at night!
So remember from now on to carefully regulate the lighting conditions in your living environment, because, well, your very happiness depends on it! And if someone you know suffers from depression, then science has now confirmed that literally going outside and getting some more light IS an effective treatment for this condition. So nudge them to go out and enjoy some sunlight. This won’t magically cure their depression, however, you can never know, maybe a few walks will get them in a better state of mind and therefore feeling better. And that can go a long way to actually beating depression and getting back to your happy self.