Circadian rhythms and the effect of sunlight on our moods, health, physiology, growth and fertility is an extremely well documented and researched subject. It is of great concern in countries that are far away from the equator with long periods of winter and no Sun. So a quick search online can actually throw up devices that mimic natural day light to be used in Nordic countries where winter not just means cold weather, but also a day without any sunshine. In these countries, the effect of a complete lack of Sun is extremely well documented, so people living in these countries and the health care system and offices, make a special effort to compensate for this lack of light.
But in India, we are fast developing our own version of a Nordic winter in our offices: where the temperature is often a steady (and freezing for many of us) 16 degree Centigrade with white fluorescent light through the day. Given our tendency to stay longer and longer in office o finish up an increasing pile of work, and to avoid traffic snarls, many of us are spending time within an artificially cold environment without any natural light. This is especially true of IT professionals today.
So in our post today on Ayurvedic hair and skin care for IT professionals, we are going to be looking at the influence that natural sunlight (or daylight) has on our bodies, why artificial light is not the same for our bodies (and why overexposure to artificial light can be harmful to us), and a few simple suggestions to get more daylight to help your body balance better.
What is so special about Sunlight? Why is it important for our bodies to get a certain amount of sunlight every day?
Our existence on this planet and of every other life form depends upon the Sun. Autotrophs organisms that make their own food), like most plants, use the Sun’s energy to perform photosynthesis. Heterotrophs (organisms that derive nourishment from organic sources of carbon like the soil, other plants, and other organisms and animals) use Sunlight and the Sun’s energy in many ways. The sun’s energy reaches our bodies by the food we consume (which has used Sun’s energy to create itself).
In all animal forms , from the lowest to the highest and most complex organism like human beings Sun light also additionally regulates the body’s fertility, moods, the time we sleep and we get up, and how we feel about ourselves, and how we eat.
Sunlight and its effect on Melatonin production:
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxy-tryptamine) is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in animals (and human beings). Melatonin is also secreted in plants. The synchronization of all circadian rhythms in the body like sleep cycles, blood pressure regulation, menstrual cycles, fertility, etc, is regulated and worked upon by Melatonin.
The normal pathway of Sunlight is as follows: Light passes through the retina to the optic nerve. One part of the optic nerve goes to the brain’s vision centre and the other part of the optic nerve goes to a portion of the hypothalamus called the superchaismatic nucleus. The superchiasmatic nucleus is the body’s internal clock. From here, a light generated nerve message travels through the brain to the spinal cord and out of the superior cervical ganglion to the pineal gland.
The basic signal sent via this pathway to the pineal gland is simple: if the body is exposed to light, do NOT secrete Melatonin. If there is no light, START secreting Melatonin.
Melatonin and the rest / repair cycle of the whole body:
When Melatonin begins secreting, it starts to relax the brain, signalling to the body that it is time to go to sleep. Darkness and the lack of light stimulates the release of Melatonin by the Pineal gland which then reaches our blood stream and travels through the cerebrospinal fluid into the brain.
This tells our whole body and brain to calm down and go into the state of repair associated with good quality sleep. When we get this good quality sleep at the right time, preferably 1-1.5 hours after eating our last meal (and hopefully a meal that is easy to digest), our body and mind go into a state of rest. Unencumbered by the digestive process, and relaxed into sleep, every organ system is meticulously examined and repaired.
The brain whizzes through the events of the day, analyzing and sorting and storing our impressions. When it encounters strong impressions, it creates dreams that help it process these impressions, and gives us signals / intuitive signs of incidents / people / behaviours we need to work on. It then goes into the deepest dream state, where it rests and repairs its own cells ready to re-start the next day.
The effect of using Blue light (from screens) on your body’s Melatonin production
Laptops, smart phones, and tablets and PCs emit light in the blue-white range. Several studies have been done on how this affects the Melatonin production in the body. Here are a few:
Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her team studied the effect of using an Ipad or a Tablet at night. The study showed that 2 hours of using an Ipad at night in maximum brightness mode was enough to suppress the volunteers’ normal night time release of Melatonin.
Two hours of screen time with a device held close to the eyes, reduced Melatonin levels by 22%.
When this is done every day for a few years, it is enough to chronically disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm with serious health consequences. The dose of light in this case is as important as the amount of light. The same researcher found that the Melatonin suppression was less when the device was positioned further away from the eyes – therefore a TV screen will also suppress Melatonin production, but not as much as a tablet / e-reader / Smartphone held close to the eyes.
Another interesting piece of research was done by the University of Basel in Switzerland. When LED screens were used in computers and laptops (vs. old style fluorescent monitors), Melatonin levels took much longer to rise in the evening and stayed deficient until the next day. Blue light exposure also gave the subjects higher scores temporarily on memory and recall.
The alertness and “awakeness” caused by exposure to blue light via the LED screen frustrates the body’s ability to go to sleep later. The longer our exposure is to this light, and the closer this exposure is to our bedtime, the more difficult it is going to be for us to fall asleep.
The manifestation of excessive blue light exposure:
A common recommendation at Krya when we see stress related hairfall is to investigate the nature of the stress. When we see that stress is manifested in insomnia and an inability to fall asleep, we ask about the nature of the job. When we are told that a laptop is used well past sunset, and a Smartphone is further used at home to check and respond to email until 10 pm or later, we can understand the reason for stress.
As we have seen above, even 2 hours of using an Ipad to simply play games is enough to decrease Melatonin production by 22%. Imagine the depletion and increase in stress in the body when we use our laptop to answer an angry work email or finish a presentation late into the night? With not enough Melatonin production, our sleep is going to be less, poor in quality and cause our other organ systems to malfunction. Several health conditions like diabetes, PCOS, infertility and obesity are linked to poor sleep caused by improper exposure to sunlight and excessive exposure to blue light.
When the levels of blue light exposure are high, we see the following health conditions at Krya: high hair loss and a marked slowdown in the growth of hair. We also see rapid aging of the body as manifested in dull skin, early appearance of wrinkles, premature greying, etc. There are often problems associated with the reproductive organs. In women we see delayed menstrual cycles, scanty bleeding, PCOS or PCOD, and infertility or delay in conception.
This link with sunlight, exposure to artificial light is not new or surprising: studies done in the 70s and the 80s measured how Nordic countries had a definite correlation between sunlight availability and exposure and fertility. For example, conception peaks in June and July in Finland, when Finns are exposed to nearly 20 hours of sunshine per day!
While the artificial light and screen time is definitely unhealthy in our work environment, there is perhaps not too much we can do to directly and rapidly change this. But we can influence our bodies and health by making important, small changes in our home. We will see this below.
Ayurveda on sunshine and vata disorders:
The Dinacharya recommendation of the Acharyas, lays emphasis on exposure to different kinds of light. We are asked to appreciate and be exposed to different kinds of sunlight, specifically early morning and late afternoon and evening sunlight. We are also asked to be exposed to moonlight, and this is particularly true of those with a marked Pitta constitution.
This is also considered particularly important in the growth and development of infants. Infants are supposed to be exposed to the rays of the rising sun alone, and this is considered a very important health giving practice in Ayurveda. The Acharyas say that this practice strengthens immunity, improves bone and joint development and aids proper growth.
Similarly, the texts recommend a gradual slowing down at night and break from all brain related activity post sunset. The brain engages both pitta and vata dosha through the use of the eyes and mental thought, so all devices and activities that engage with the eyes and the brain cause restlessness.
When we over use these doshas, we have high heat in the body, extreme fatigue, restlessness, inability to switch off and associated skin and hair complaints like premature greying, hair thinning, hair fall, rough and coarse skin and dryness.
Many vata based disorders like joint aches, slipped disc, chronic fatigue, and insomnia can start with poor quality sleep due to excessive and overuse of the brain and high exposure to blue light via screen time. As we have seen, simply using your e-reader at night can set off a chain of events leading to depletion in Melatonin production, change in menstrual cycles and increased risk of conditions like diabetes.
The antidote to this in Ayurveda is twofold: cut down the increase in vata dosha at source and pacify agitated vata dosha in the body. We will see these recommendations in detail below.
Krya’s recommendations when vata and pitta dosha is aggravated due to excessive screen exposure:
- Give your brain and eyes frequent rest breaks at work: 10 minutes once an hour is ideal. At this time, if possible, take a walk outdoors or stand outside of an air conditioned environment. Gazing at greenery is also recommended. Ayurveda recommends avoiding direct sun exposure between 10 am – 3pm, so this is not the time to go and do an energetic walk, atleast in India.
- Creation of a vata reducing “time out” between office and home: Ayurveda recommends creating an intermission or a space between places/ periods of intense brain activity. This helps the brain slow down, rest and get used to working at slower and more restful speeds. So if you have a stressful atmosphere or are overworked at office and use your laptop intensively, we recommend coming back home and taking a pause. Lie down in a dark room, without any stimulus (no sound, no cold air, no conversations, no reading) for 15 minutes. This helps the brain slow down and step down to a less stressful mode of operation. You can resume your activities at home post this “intermission”.
- Switch off or reduce use of screens after sunset. If you must, you may watch television for 30minutes. What is much better is to chat with your family, and cook a fresh meal together. If your vata dosha is very high, do not watch television either. Switch off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in your home and go for a walk instead.
- Eliminate / Reduce personal screens both in the evening and the first thing in the morning. The evening suggestion is obvious: this is to help your body sleep better. We recommend avoiding using your Smartphone to check emails until 9 am to give your body time to accustom itself to natural sunlight. Ayurveda recommends waking up the body gently and lovingly: a Smartphone early in the morning is the electronic equivalent of waking your child up by throwing a bucket of cold water on her. It is harsh, unnecessary and quite frankly rude.
- Monitor your levels of natural sun exposure: We recommend atleast 30 minutes in the morning sun, and 30 minutes in the evening sun – the light spectrum is different at both times and both kinds are required by the body. Sun exposure should be whole without any barrier: glasses bend the light spectrum as do windows. So it is not enough to watch the sun through your glass window, you must be out in it. If you wear glasses / contacts, it is actually better to remove this during your walk, if possible. This allows the light to enter your body unfiltered and work its magic.
- Existing aggravated vata in your body (accumulated through the stress of multiple PowerPoint presentations and angry client calls) has to be contained by oil application. When your stress levels are high, be diligent about abhyanga. Increase its frequency if possible, and definitely do not skip t. Oil your scalp atleast 3 – 4 times a week to cool the brain and improve the function of the eyes. If you are highly stressed, add a pada abhyanga (foot massage) to your daily routine – this helps de-stress the body and helps you relax.
- Existing aggravated vata should be addressed by nourishing, dhatu building food. Cold food and drinks aggravate vata further as do crisp and hard foods. So avoid eating a burger and a coke when you are stressed and reach for a freshly cooked, warm Mung dal kitchdi instead. This will reduce stress and also nourish your body well.
Slow down and smell the roses:
In final analysis, health is built every single day by the simple choices we make and the things we say yes or no to. A full and rich life is not measured only by what we achieved at work or how much time we spent there. It is also measured by our health, optimistic outlook on life, and the relationships we nurtured and the conversations we had.
If after reading this article you have seen signs of vata imbalance and health issues associated with excessive screen usage, take some time to slow down and analyse this. A small decision you take today to cut down screen time at home, take a healthy walk, and spend time with loved ones instead of your Smartphone can have rich dividends in your future.
Krya products recommended for hair and skin to control aggravated vata (due to high mental stress):
- Krya harmony hair oil (contains Brahmi and other herbs to cool and relax the brain)
- Krya Abhyanga Skin Oil (for full body abhyanga and pada abhyanga) – available separately and in the Krya Women’s Abhyanga system and the Krya Men’s abhyanga system
If you would like further recommendations or help choosing Krya products, please write to us or call us on (0)75500-89090.