Light. What’s the big deal?

We humans are amazing, aren’t we? Ever since the invention of artificial light sources we have been able to control our body clocks. Our circadian rhythm is regulated by light and affects so many different functions within our body. It’s why Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its milder form, Winter Blues can be so difficult to pin down a diagnosis on.

Fatigue, apathy, brain fog, carb cravings, lack of libido; feeling depressed, anxious, demotivated and unsociable. In the UK we can spend half of our year or more experiencing these symptoms. The severity ranges from barely registering and ‘just a bit meh’ to being unable to function physically and mentally. And this is affecting nearly a third of us in the UK. I just don’t think that’s okay.

We talk a lot about more now about quality of life and being happy. We have huge Government campaigns for diet and exercise to reduce obesity. In turn, they hope to reduce life-threatening and NHS draining conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart failure.

Shining a light on an important subject

Notebook page showing handwritten notes on plans for Little Light Room, by Neina Sheldon

What few people have been talking about is our basic human need for optimal levels of light. I’ve been banging on about this for well over a decade now and at times people have looked at me like I have two heads. I haven’t been able to understand why we’re not talking about it. Once you start doing so, it seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Since I first started blogging about this in 2012, my vision has grown and grown. This picture shows a mind map of my vision I drew up in 2016.

The tide is turning. I can see and feel it. I talk to people about this now and they get it. The conversation about mental health is growing. People are starting to understand their need for healthy diet, hydration and exercise and I genuinely believe that the missing piece of this jigsaw is light. After all – when all you want to do is bury yourself under your duvet and eat ALL the carbs, it’s hard to maintain your diet and exercise regimens, isn’t it?! 😉

I spent last week at Newcastle Startup Week and talked to people about all this – my passion project, as I’ve come to call it. I want to impact on individuals, organisations and Government policy. I want future generations to be free of SAD and Winter Blues. I want natural and top-up artificial light therapy to be a basic right for everyone. I’ve got the why in spades. I have tons of ideas for the what and the how, but I know I can’t do it all alone.

What is a healthy light right?

No more working and studying in windowless workspaces. No more tints on the windows that block much-needed natural light. No more shaming people if they want to take a breather outdoors. No more. No more. No more.

Instead, I want EVERYONE to have an awareness and take responsibility for their own light needs for their wellbeing. I want employers and building engineers to think about lighting workspaces with wellbeing in mind and not just health and safety. I want employees to be able to take breaks during their work day to get some fresh air and natural light with no judgement or questions asked. I want Government to legislate this because I suspect many employers and building engineers would only take responsibility for this if they’re forced. I want getting enough light to be so easy and natural that we no longer have symptoms caused by lack of light. I want us to design solutions for our changing climate with our light needs in mind.

I finished Startup Week full of hope, but as overwhelmed by my huge vision as ever. “There’s so little valid and reliable research or conversation happening out there on light for wellbeing; how will I convince people we need to make these things happen?”, I thought.

Answers from the Universe?

I don’t know if you believe in fate, the Universe, God, Source or any of these things. I am beginning to, more and more.

I cried with joy earlier this week when my boyfriend called me late at night to tell me to look at VELUX’s brand new ‘The Indoor Generation’ campaign, launched on 15 May. And I couldn’t sleep for hours afterwards, I was so excited!

Why? Because the fact that a huge company like them are now talking about the problems that result from us not having enough natural light and fresh air is huge validation. More than that, they’ve used their resources to conduct up-to-date research with a huge sample of 16,000 people across 14 countries.

That same morning, my boyfriend had told me he’d ordered me a light meter so I can measure the light intensity of areas (he’s adorable!). At the weekend, following a conversation with a contact the previous week about his office light levels, he told me he’d talked to his staff about it and discovered they feel down when it’s dull.

So what now?

Let’s get talking about this more. Let’s start letting more light in to our homes and workspaces. Let’s get out into the fresh air and natural daylight as much as we can. Let’s support the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association. Let’s lobby our Government to enhance their campaigns with light as an enabler of healthy diets and exercise. Let’s introduce bright lights in autumn and winter, like these from Lumie to top-up the natural light we get. Let’s put ourselves in the best position possible to live healthy lives.

I’m super excited to see where this goes and to be part of it. If you’re working in this space, I’d love to hear from you. Please connect with me on LinkedIn so we can start a conversation.

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