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Daylight robbery: how lack of sunlight is keeping us awake

October 18, 2019 - 6:22pm

According to Anoosh Chakelian of the New Statesman, lack of sleep is hitting Britain’s economic productivity:

A Rand study into the economic effects of sleep deprivation last February found that the insufficient and poor quality sleep of UK workers was losing the country 1.86 per cent of its GDP, or 200,000 working days each year.
- Anoosh Chakelian

But what’s keeping us awake?

Our screen addiction often get the blame: by flooding our eyes with bluish light at night, we’re messing with our circadian rhythms.

But there’s another part of the picture that gets ignored – which is that we’re getting too little light during the day. The science is explained by Linda Geddes in an extract on Literary Hub from her book Chasing the Sun:

…there is growing evidence to suggest that exposing oneself to bright light during the daytime can help to negate some of the detrimental effects of light at night —as well as improving our mood and alertness more directly.
- Linda Geddes

Researchers found significant impacts:

Exposure to bright, morning light was particularly powerful: those exposed to it between 8 a.m. and noon took an average of 18 minutes to fall asleep at night, compared to 45 minutes in the low light exposure group; they also slept for around 20 minutes longer and experienced fewer sleep disturbances.
- Linda Geddes

Unsurprisingly, the effects were particularly pronounced during winter when it’s much easier to miss out on daylight.

Modern architecture was meant to compensate for our troglodytic indoor lives – plateglass buildings supposedly brightening our days. But if you’ve ever been in an open-plan office during a power cut, you realise that natural light doesn’t penetrate very far into our 21st century caves.

One day we might realise that the comforts and efficiencies of modernity come at a price – and not solely a spiritual one. The impact of comprehensively de-naturalising our lives can be measured in terms of physical well-being and even economic productivity.

One doesn’t have to believe that we should ‘go back to nature’ to see that we need more room for it in our lives.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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