Embarking on the long, dark months of winter can be rough, even for the healthiest and most active of us. As the days become shorter, darkness forces us indoors and away from natural light, our best defense against dreary moods and unmotivated gloom. It’s not just a coincidence that our emotions and behaviors change this time of year. A plethora of scientific studies prove that people are more likely to experience depression during wintertime, and that our energy levels wane in low levels of light. Although we can’t do much about the change in seasons, there are some clever lighting tactics that can help us endure these months of minimal daylight.
Physiology of Light
When light photons reach the eye’s retina, they are transmitted to the hypothalamus gland which controls our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are those biological processes which dictate a person’s internal clock, and influence physiologic variables such as melatonin secretion and alertness. Inadequate lighting for significant periods of the day therefore has a quick and direct impact on the brain. Decreased secretion of melatonin, for instance, can inflict sleep problems that lead to emotional and behavioral changes. In severe cases, the pathological condition associated with seasonal changes in light is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and unsurprisingly is more prevalent in geographic locations that receive less light.
Architecture, Light, and Our Health
Our species is biologically adapted to live in the natural world, bathing in the rays of natural light. In a society where people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors under electric light, and especially in seasons of limited daylight, it becomes essential to design artificial lighting systems in our homes that address human requirements for consistent circadian light levels.
Attaining a desired light distribution indoors is contingent upon your light source and fixture. Fluorescent lighting is generally the most appropriate for broad distribution in large rooms, whereas low voltage LEDs are more suited for narrow distribution.
Some people who are affected by the winter gloom would benefit greatly from full spectrum lighting solutions and light therapy. Mimicking the natural light spectrum of the sun, without harmful UV rays, sitting near a light box is literally like taking a break from the gray and “recharging” your body.
Design Away the Doldrums
A light inspired décor will benefit a homeowner who doesn’t require light therapy, but is looking to brighten up their space and mood. A great first step is to walk through your home and assess the dark areas. Although you’ve become accustomed to it, your current home configuration can easily be changed to eliminate any dark, shadowy spaces. Perhaps adding a window, lightening your walls, or swapping dark, bulky furniture for cheerier varieties would do the trick. From there, open up a dark ceiling with recessed lighting fixtures, balance dark cabinetry with built in or under-lighting, and choose accent lighting that multitasks. Not only can a designer pendant light complement your kitchen artistically, but it can highlight particular areas where you spend time eating, cooking, reading, and so forth.
Some designers have gone so far as to strategize lighting fixtures and placement so that the pattern of light scattered around the room is part of the overall design. Not only is the unlit fixture typically an intricate, artisan piece of functional art, but the illumination and shadows it casts add an unexpected magic that appears to make the walls dance.
Power through the Winter
This change in season and loss of light will obviously continue to happen year after year. So, if you’re one of us that is affected by the dark, take action and design yourself into a more cheery, motivated emotional environment!