We already know saving electricity is not only good economical sense, but also positively impacts the environment by reducing green house gas emissions that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere further adding to the already delicate state of our planet. However, there is another, just as important reason to switch off lights and bask in natural daylight: it has a positive impact on our health.
Our body’s circadian rhythm is created endogenously or internally derived. Made famous for its connection to our sleep regulation, an optimal circadian rhythm is achieved through the successful secretion of melatonin. It also plays an important role in regulating our hormones, digestive system, and mental health. Frequent sleep disruption can lead to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
Our understanding of circadian rhythms is a fairly recent discovery, starting in 1729 when scientists observed changes in the leaves of Mimosa pudica plant. Then again in 1970, researchers at California Institute of Technology turned to fruit flies to determine how specific genes change or stop circadian behavior. Fast forward to 1994, the first mammalian studies were conducted on mice. These studies help connect and highlight our biological reliance on the environmental cycles and our health (yet another good reason to take care of the planet!)
How do circadian rhythms work? Why do they matter?
The eye contains rods and cones that give us sight, but they also contain a set of photo-receptors, known as intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) that do not play a role in our ability to see. Instead, ipRGCs interpret light wavelengths, and then communicate them to the brain as a signal for the body to secrete melatonin to promote sleep.
Light wavelengths will vary depending on the color and time of day. In the morning, blue light plays a role in waking us up. In the afternoon and evening, golden, red, and orange light signals the body to start preparing for sleep. This is why it’s a good idea to stay away from the blue light-emitting electronic devices before bed, as they can disrupt our bodies circadian rhythm.
When we sleep well, we are happier, more energetic, and more alert. A mid-afternoon dip in energy might make you feel like eating more sugar, carbohydrates or more caffeine. This will be more pronounced when we are sleep-deprived or have disrupted circadian rhythms.
It’s no surprise, then, that people naturally gravitate towards natural light, and why window seats in an office are highly sought after. Our bodies know what they need – we just need to listen!
Written by Eminè Mehmet, WELL AP, WELL Faculty, GSAP, Fitwel Ambassador | Health and Wellbeing Consultant
Join Integral Group on June 21 for Daylight Hour 2019, a global event to raise awareness about using natural daylight in lieu of electric lighting in offices.