Mental Health

How to Keep Getting Daylight All Winter Long

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Cozy sweaters, crackling fireplaces, curling up with loved ones or a good book—there’s a lot to enjoy about winter in the northern latitudes. But if you count on a big daily dose of daylight, that can be tough to come by. Short of relocating to Aruba, what can you do to get more sunlight in your life?

Rather than head to a tanning bed, where your risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging is increased, consider a light-therapy box or other lamp designed to combat the effects of seasonal effective disorder.

Typical light box use involves sitting in the light from the box for 20 to 30 minutes within the first hour after waking. The strong light from the box triggers your brain to start its 24-hour circadian cycle, effectively putting your mind and body back in spring/summer mode.

Experts recommend sitting within 16 to 24 inches of the light, but without looking directly into it. The FDA does not test, approve, or regulate light boxes, so do your research and consult your doctor before beginning use. You should certainly check with your doctor first if you have eye problems, or bipolar disorder­.

There are a few factors you should keep in mind when using a light box. Your light should provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light (about 1 lumen per square meter, so the closer you are to your light source, the more lux you’re actually getting). You also want one that emits little to no UV light (otherwise you risk that damage to your skin and eyes).

But what about those nine or ten hours of daylight still left to us during the winter? That may not seem like much, especially when the temperature outside is so low. But you can try to make as much use as you can of those hours that are left.

Researchers who’ve studied the issue have found that having access to natural light during your workday makes a big difference. In one recent study, participants with a window on the outdoors got nearly an hour more of sleep per night, which translated to better mood, longer attention span, and better memory.

To get the benefits, workstations should be within 20 to 25 feet of a window, as natural light doesn’t penetrate much further. (Whether or not you can “see” the window matters less.) But if a window seat isn’t an option, try to get outside during your lunch and other breaks. And if you can fit in a walk or some other exercise during that time, even better.

Speaking of outdoor exercise, try not to let the cold slow you down or drive you inside for good. With the right gear and appropriate preparation, it’s another great way to soak up a little sunlight and boost your winter mood.

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