If you’ve ever tried to grow a plant in a windowless room, you’ve probably learned a lesson in how important lighting is. Without a full spectrum of light, either coming from the sun or lights that mimic sunlight, most plants will fail to thrive and many will refuse to flower.
Humans aren’t plants, but the way we experience light can be just as dramatic. Different forms of light can give us a boost, rev up our emotional responses, or even help us overcome sadness and depression. In short, exposure to light is part of what helps us feel energized and being deprived of light can have serious consequences.
Somewhat surprisingly, blue light isn’t associated with a blue mood. Blue light has been shown in scientific research to deliver a burst of energy when you are exposed to it. People exposed to blue light felt more alert and demonstrate better cognitive performance. Research has documented that the energizing effects of blue light linger, even after the light has gone out. In one experiment, blue light exposure significantly increased activity and productivity for a full thirty minutes after the light was removed.
The secret power of blue light is that it is a distinct component to sunlight, one that signals when the sun is up. Humans have long evolved to use this light sue as a sign that it’s time to get to work, giving our energy over to the day’s tasks.
Blue light exposure can have unintended consequences especially now in our new era of technology. Our access to a lot of blue light has increased with the proliferation of screen-based tech. Instead of only relying on the sun as our source of blue light, laptop screens, tablets, smartphones and other devices all shine blue light from their screens. A modern malady, many people who expose themselves to this unnatural blue light, especially before bed, report interference with their sleep cycle.
Intense Light and Intense Feelings
The level of lighting can make different behavioral changes occur as well. Dim lighting versus bright lighting can make a world of difference in how we respond to a given situation. In bright light, our energy and emotions run high. Scientific research has shown that people form bolder decisions when the lights are turned up. Bright lights also push the desire inside us for more intense experiences such as spicier flavors or more colorful settings.
While bright lights can lead us to adventurous choices, dim lights often lead to comfortable ones. In a study that looked at how the lighting in a restaurant corresponded with how people ordered food. In dimmer lights, customers tended to order heavier, more caloric “comfort foods”. Diners in dim light also ate their food slower at a more relaxed pace, curbing the gusto that eaters exhibited when dining under bright light.
Many people worldwide are affected by a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and even many people without the condition experience some of its symptoms caused by in part by reduced light exposure. When the shorter days of the winter season begin, people with SAD become much more vulnerable to mood disorders, insomnia and depression. The shorter days of winter mean less opportunities for us to get an energy boost from soaking in the full spectrum of sunlight.
Research has shown that light may be part of the solution for SAD and can help in cases of depression. Either through spending increased time outdoors or using a full-spectrum light, people can improve their mood and energy. In treating depression especially, light exposure can enhance the effectiveness of other treatments, such as antidepressants.
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