Ah sunshine. We all crave it, but unfortunately, very few of us are getting much of it. Working indoors all day and then going home to make dinner and prepare for the next day consumes most of our time.
But science has shown that we need exposure to natural light to keep our bodies healthy and our minds functioning at their highest level. So, what are we to do when stuck inside all day?!
As an architect with a focus on wellness design, clients often ask me how to best manage their sun exposure when stuck indoors all day. Here's how you can set your home up to maximize sunshine and keep your internal clock on track.
Our Bodies Need Light
Science has shown that we need exposure to natural light to keep our bodies healthy and our minds functioning at their highest level.
Circadian rhythms (our body’s internal clock) need to be aligned with nature’s clock in order to sleep well at night and gain energy for the day. The light you receive through your eyes controls the production of melatonin, the hormone that aids in sleep.
Your body wants bright light in the morning to suppress the production of melatonin. In the evening, your body wants warm light and then darkness to start creating the melatonin again.
If you are in an indoor environment all day and evening that does not expose you to the right tones and levels of light, your circadian rhythms will be out of whack. This leads to difficulty sleeping at night and loss of energy and productivity during the day.
As a wellness architect that designs homes for the enhancement of a family’s health and well-being, here are my favorite strategies to ensure your internal clock stays aligned with nature’s clock.
Let the sun shine in
When you are home during the day, there might be times when the sun is so bright that it is overheating a room or creating terrible glare at your work area.
To mitigate the heat and glare, install translucent shades at your windows instead of opaque curtains. Shades do a great job at reducing the intensity of the sun while still allowing your body to soak in the midday rays. Curtains make a room too dark and you lose the connection to daylight and nature.
The best type of shade to install is the top down, bottom up kind. This gives you the most control to cover only the portion of the window that is letting in the direct sunlight.
Let light reflect
Choose light colored wall paint like white, cream and pastels in living areas to allow sunlight to reflect off the walls and brighten up the space.
Choosing light colored furniture will have the same effect. Dark colored paint and furnishings absorb light and can make a room feel darker.
Layer the lighting
When the sun starts to set, it’s usually necessary to switch to artificial lighting. The good news is that your body doesn’t know the difference between natural and artificial light when it comes to controlling your circadian rhythm.
Since some household evening activities require bright light, while others can be done in low light, it’s best to create layers of lighting in your living spaces.
Light layering means you have task lighting, accent lighting and ambient lighting.
- Task lighting is best done with table or floor lamps near where a task will be performed.
- Accent lighting is used to highlight features in a living space like a painting.
- Ambient lighting is usually a softer, warmer light that gently illuminates the rest of the space.
Combining these three types of lights will allow you to control the intensity of light in your living space based on the activity being performed.
Colors of light
Just like with light layering, you want to include varying colors of light.
For early morning light, select bright white colored light bulbs. (Read the labels on the LED light bulb box to find out what kind of light the bulb provides.)
For lights that will be used in the evening, select bulbs that provide a warm, orangey glow. This is especially important in the bedroom where you are trying to wind down before bedtime. The soft, warm light will trigger melatonin production and get you ready for restful sleep.
Just say no to blue light at night
By now you have probably heard that you need to avoid blue light at night. This is the type of light that is coming from your cell phone, computer screen and television. Introducing your body to the bright blue light at night wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythm, getting your body out of its natural alignment.
Switch your devices to nighttime mode, buy some blue light-filtering glasses, or avoid screen time at night (best, and hardest, option).
Building or buying a new home?
Some things to think about when building a home, or things to be on the lookout for when buying a new home are:
The best way to start your circadian rhythms on the right foot is to wake up with the sun. Having east-facing bedrooms allows the sun to naturally wake you and easily gives you the type of light your body is craving in the morning. I know we don’t all have the luxury of waking up after sun rise throughout the whole year, but for much of the year we can benefit from this free resource.
South-facing home office:
If you work from home, you will appreciate having natural sunlight come through your windows all day long. The best way to achieve this is by having a south-facing office.
Sunshades and light shelves:
Windows serve many wonderful purposes including providing fresh air, a connection to nature and free daylighting. But if not placed properly or shaded properly, windows can easily overheat your house and create distracting glare.
Adding exterior sunshades to windows helps control the amount of light that comes through the window at certain times of the day. Interior light shelves are horizontal devices that attach to windows and have the power to redirect sunlight, minimizing glare and adding more light into the rest of the room.
Improve the amount of natural light you do get during the day, and create the right color and intensity of artificial light in the early mornings and evenings to improve your sleep at night and boost your energy during the day.
Whether you are in the market for a new home or ready to enhance your current home, implementing these strategies will help get your circadian rhythms on track. And as a bonus, you might also see a reduction in your electric bill by decreasing the amount of artificial lighting used.