đŸ’¡Illuminating the Path: The Impact of Light on our Wellbeing

Examining lifestyle factors is a part of how I work; particularly looking at how the influence of our surroundings intertwines with our well-being. I find inspiration in the insightful podcasts of Andrew Huberman, where he deep-dives into the link between science and the human experience. Huberman is a Professor of Neuroscience and Opthalmology at Stanford, so is superbly placed to comment on the impact of light on our wellbeing.

Last week, Huberman released a podcast which included the latest scientific understanding on the impact of light on mental and physical health (as well as fascinating insights on the latest treatments for cancer). A summary of this information on light has been published in his online magazine Neural Network, entitled "Using Light for Health". The role of light exposure extends far beyond mere illumination; it is a key player in shaping our mood, motivation, and sleep patterns. 

The importance of light...

Huberman's article is particularly timely and resonant. The seasonal ebb and flow of our emotions, often witnessed in the winter blues, finds its roots in the influence of light and in particular the mechanism by which sunlight hits our retina and suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Without appropriate light we might feel sluggish and like we should be hibernating during the shorter days. Something akin to hibernating is what we would have been doing prior to the evolution of our modern world. I say; if we want to cheat the system we should go all out. I use a SAD lamp (obviously I call it my Happy lamp) from 1st September to 1st April. The one I am currently using is this model and it's brilliant. 

I wrote about Seasonal Affective Disorder on my counselling site in 2012. Fast forward to this decade; Huberman's deep dives into scientific realms may be extensive, but as a self-professed nerd, I revel in the wealth of knowledge he presents (I must update that ancient blog post sometime). Recognising that not everyone shares this enthusiasm, I regularly share accessible podcast summaries with my clients. These summaries serve as illuminating guides, bridging the gap between complex scientific concepts and practical, actionable insights. 

The importance of dark...

We are surely by now all aware of the importance of sleep hygiene and the negative impact of the lights from all manner of screens and devices adversely affecting our sleep. Again, it's to do with the impact of light hitting our retina and surprising melatonin. We do not want to suppress melatonin at night! 

Some snippets from Huberman's article: 

"...light directs a number of key aspects of our physiology to strongly impact our overall health and well-being. Light directly impacts our mood, our sleep, our ability to wake up and focus, our hormone levels, our immune system and our ability to cope with stress."

"I consider viewing morning sunlight in the top five of all actions that support mental health, physical health and performance."

"...morning sunlight helps regulate your “circadian clock” — the body’s mechanism for anticipating when to wake up and go to sleep — and it manages other biological processes like hunger and body temperature."

"...if you are looking at your phone or turning on bright lights, especially overhead lights, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on a regular basis, your health will suffer."

In my coaching and therapy sessions, by acknowledging the impact of lifestyle factors like light, it becomes a tool for empowerment. By weaving these insights into our sessions, we can collaboratively explore how simple yet profound changes in daily routines can positively influence mood, motivation, and overall well-being.

Self-care isn't just about baths and smelly candles. It's behaving in ways that are physiologically appropriate for our bodies' functioning.

I will write more on this whole topic of lifestyle factors. There's all kinds of ways in which we can shift our habits to improve our moods...