30 May

How a glazed extension can boost your health

It's hard to imagine a world without artificial lights. Man-made lighting has given us the freedom to eat, work and play day or night, but 24/7 lifestyles could be damaging our health.

For centuries, architects and interior designers have been using natural light in their plans and whilst large, stylish glazing is obviously aesthetically very striking, it also plays a hugely important role in ensuring that a building’s inhabitants remain healthy.

So just why is natural light so important?

Sleep – Our circadian rhythms are our body’s natural 24 hour clock and responsible for our daily mental and behavioural changes throughout the day. These rhythms respond to light and dark accordingly, heightening our energy levels and alertness during the daytime and winding us down in the evenings ready for bed. As a result, not getting enough natural daylight and being subject to too much stimulating artificial lighting in the evening (especially via mobile phone and tablet use) can throw circadian rhythms out of sync, leaving us feeling lethargic and lacking concentration during the day yet unable to sleep at night.

Vitamin D – Sunlight doesn’t give us vitamin D directly, but it helps our body to produce its own supply. Vitamin D is the key ingredient in strong bone development and is vital for our bodies to be able to absorb calcium from our diet. Apart from bone disorders such as osteoporosis, a lack of vitamin D has also been linked to depression and obesity. There have also been recent cases highlighted in the media about rises in the number of cases of rickets – a Victorian-era disease brought about by a vitamin D deficiency.

Productivity – There are strong links between the benefits of natural light exposure and our overall productivity, focus and cognitive performance. For example, a study by Solatube found that students in California performed up to 26% better on standardised tests when exposed to the most daylight.

Wellbeing / SAD – The benefits of natural light don’t just apply to our physical well being, but also to our psychological health and mood. According to the Mental Health Foundation, the NHS estimates approximately one in 15 people in the UK are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) between September and April, whereby shorter days and longer nights leave people feeling flat, sluggish and uninterested in things they would usually find enjoyable.

Rjukan – Knowing that they were lacking in natural light for six months of the year, inhabitants of a Norwegian town called Rjukan, went to extreme measures: they erected three large solar powered, computerised mirrors on the mountain opposite to reflect the sun’s rays down on to the square, so desperate were they to feel the benefits of the sun during their long, dark winters.

So next time you are considering buying a new property, or making alterations to your existing home, using good old natural daylight as your primary light source will not only keep a lid on your utility bills and your carbon footprint, but it could also make an invaluable positive impact on your health and well being.