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Let there be light!
The previous section on sleeping in darkness is all about your eyes expecting a lack of light at night as a biological necessity. But the same goes for daytime. Just as your eyes expect darkness at night, they expect sunlight during the day.
Australian National University researchers have explained radically divergent rates of childhood nearsightedness to the amount of direct sun exposure received by the kids. They found, for example, that nearly 90 percent of children in Singapore have myopia and spend an average of 30 minutes outside every day. Children in Australia, however, suffer from much lower rates of myopia — just 10 percent — but spend an average of three hours outdoors each day.
Scientists believe that developing eyes in young children need the body to produce dopamine, which is triggered by direct sunlight going into the eyes.
Meanwhile, there’s an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in part because people aren’t getting enough direct sunlight. As many as three-quarters of the teen and adult populations in the United States may be deficient in this vitamin. This is bad, because vitamin D deficiency has been linked with increased risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's and other diseases.
Part of our sun deficiency is related to fear of skin cancer. However, what people should fear is any degree of sunburn. According to the Vitamin D Council, your body gets all the exposure it needs for health long before the skin starts to redden. So getting sun in small, frequent doses is healthier and less risky than avoiding the sun part of the year, then getting occasionally sunburned.
The takeaway here is that most people living outside the tropics just aren’t getting enough sunshine. And the best way to get sun is in small doses very frequently.
Let the sun shine in
This fact can inform our decision making about home design and home investment.
For example, where to invest on home improvement? Retile the bathroom or install skylights? Buy an expensive new TV and home-entertainment system or playground equipment in the backyard? Replace a wall with drywall or floor-to-ceiling glass windows? Add a pool table or a pool?
One interesting possible upgrade is a “smart" skylight called the Ciralight Suntracker. With a typical skylight, a patch of sunlight is cast on the floor or wall of your home, and moves throughout the day as the sun moves. The Suntracker uses GPS, and mirrors track the sun throughout the day and bounce it directly down onto a diffuser. So as long as the sun is up, the skylight is capturing all available sunlight and beaming it into the house in a way that maximizes light. Most Ciralight customers are industrial or retail companies, but the company also offers home installation. The price is about $1,100 to adapt a commercial unit for a residence, and they're working on a 2-foot-square model for homes (price to be announced).
Science is telling us that lighting decisions can have far-ranging consequences for our happiness and well-being. Investing in darker nights and sunnier days may be the brightest idea for your family’s health.
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