CoolTimeLife Podcast: Light and Darkness and Winter Months

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Light and Darkness and Winter Months. The lack of light that we experience in winter months can do a lot of damage to health and productivity. Human beings thrive on light. So, what can you do to get through the dark half of the year and feel better? Join Steve for a quick ten-minute podcast on how to beat those winter blues.

Every year winter closes in, and with it the long days of summer vanish into memory. The lack of light – dark when we get up and dark by suppertime has profound impact on the body and mind. It’s a time when many people suffer from some form of depression, either mild in terms of listlessness and a strong desire for comfort foods, or profound, in the form of anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. Much of this has to do with the lack of natural light.

Human beings love light. We respond to the energy that natural light delivers. The presence of sunlight stimulates the body to release positive stress hormones like serotonin and cortisol to get it moving. Low light, by contrast, does the opposite, prompting your body to create melatonin, which is the hormone that contributes to sleepiness and sleep. Melatonin can only be manufactured in low-light conditions. Therefore, the presence of sunlight on a bright summer morning tends to sweep it away. This is important for so many reasons. The first has to do with your best time of day.

The Power of Morning Light

Here’s a challenge for you. Pull together a group of people, and ask them for a show of hands, “how many of you consider yourself more active and alert in the morning rather than the evening?” In other words, how many morning people are there here? The odds are extremely good that 80% of that group – of any group – will say they are morning oriented. That’s because 80% of the world’s population is oriented towards the morning. That means all of these people will be at their best basically between 9:00 and noon, and more specifically between 9:00 and 10:30, when the presence of strong morning light combines with the adrenaline rush provided by our morning coffee to create the most alert period of the day.

Think about that: 9:00 to 10:30. That’s the most valuable part of the entire day, at least from an energy standpoint.

You will be able to get more of your most important work done during this time, and you will be able to do it better – than in any other period in the day, especially mid-afternoon.  But what do most people do during this time? They spend a lot of it checking and responding to email or attending poorly managed meetings. Now email may be important to your job, but it is not as important as the skills you were hired to use. And meetings? Well, they should either be shortened or eliminated to be replaced by collaborative technologies like Slack or Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex.

If you want to get more done, defend this slice of time between 9:00 and 10:30 against distraction. Assign this time for your most important, most valuable, most lucrative task, and leave the less important stuff, including responding to emails, for afterwards.

Winter sun, Meaford, Ontario. Photo credit: Steve Prentice

Use Light To Help Wake You Up – Gently

Waking up in the morning is tough. Very few people can wake up reliably at an exact time. If you can, you are very lucky. Most of us, however are sleep deprived. We do not get enough quality sleep. Part of the reason for this has to do with light, specifically the light coming from your laptop or phone. So many people turn to these devices in the evening for entertainment, for browsing social media, or getting those last few emails returned. But beware! The light coming from your phone or tablet is bright and is bluish. It tricks the body into thinking the sun is coming up and consequently reverses the process of melatonin production just when you need it the most. If you want to use your devices any time after the sun has set, make sure to download an app or use the night feature that switches your display over to a lower light, lower contrast color palette.

Remember, the body that you inhabit is not evolving as fast as the technologies we use. We have an ancient brain and nervous system that, for most of its 100,000-year history has not seen anything brighter at night than the moon or a fire. The crisp brightness of Angry Birds, Twitter, or email is way too new.

But you can use light to help you wake up gently. One of the most effective ways to do this is to ensure there is light present in your world before you wake up. In the summer, that’s easy. The sun takes care of it by getting up first. But in the dark months of winter it’s up to us. Here’s how to do it.

Get yourself a wall socket timer, and plug a lamp into it. NOT the one on your bedside table that will shine directly into your eyes. That’s cruel and ineffective. Set it up with a lamp that is somewhere between your pillow and the coffeemaker, maybe in the hallway. Set the timer so that it turns the lamp on just 5 minutes before your alarm clock wakes you up.

You might ask, why not just turn the light manually on when you get up? But there’s a big difference – having the presence of light basically in your visual field just prior to opening your eyes gives you a head start on stimulating your body’s chemistry.

And while you’re at it, get rid of that nasty alarm clock, too. There are much better systems – your phone probably even has one, that uses softer sounds to wake you up gradually. An excellent summary as of Fall 2019 is available at The Muse.com here.

Use Light Properly at Work

This same concept applies to your workplace, too. If it is at all possible, try to work somewhere where there is an abundance of natural light. The presence of natural light both stimulates and regulates your body. It is essential for clear thinking and focus. Why do you think executives always get the corner office? One of the many perks of this position is that it provides a much more natural and stimulating environment in which to work.

OK, so not everyone gets access to the corner office. But worse, a lot of us get stuck working under fluorescent lights. Now here’s an interesting thing about fluorescent lights: they fluoresce. They flicker, at a rate that is just beyond the range of human vision, which is about 40 frames per second. That’s a lot of visual interference that you are fighting against every hour of your workday. It’s like the cabin noise in an aircraft or trying to have a conversation in a room full of crying babies. It’s interference you have to work against, and it gets very difficult.

In any situation where you have to work or meet, try to get those fluorescents turned off. If you’re having a meeting, make it part of your meeting room setup list. Look up. Check the lights. Turn off the fluorescents to and turn up the pot lights – you know, the light bulb lights. Open the drapes.  In fact, rewind even further. When you’re booking a meeting room, seek one out that has windows, and yes, book the meeting for first thing in the morning when – remember – 80% of your attendees will be at their best.

As for your workplace, try using a desk lamp. It doesn’t have to be a pricey full-spectrum lamp, just a regular one that uses a regular light bulb to cast some warmer light onto your working surface.

Stock Up on Vitamin D

Don’t forget to stock up on Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that helps your body absorb other essential minerals and is instrumental at helping keeping osteoporosis and immune related illnesses at bay. Humans automatically manufacture vitamin D for themselves when skin gets exposed to the sun, but during winter months that doesn’t happen. Dairy products and some meats offer some Vitamin D but ask your physician. Supplements might be in order.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Light and Darkness and Winter Months. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.