Did you know: some of the lights you have in your house are adding to your fatigue?
Your mitochondria, those little powerhouses in your cells, are so attuned with your environment that even the types of light you are exposed to each day can cause fatigue!
The mitochondrial-damaging light is a recent development for the human species. I’m referring specifically to compact fluorescent bulbs and the new LED (light emitting diode) bulbs – yes those same ones that last for years and years. These bulbs contain specific wavelengths of light that are particularly damaging to your mitochondria. Some refer to it as junk light. Others as white or blue light.
And as I have previously mentioned, underfunctioning and/or damaged mitochondria results in fatigue.
Your body on light
Your ancestors had been exposed to the same type of light (the sun) for millions of years. (1) Millions of years! That is an incredibly long time for your body to adapt to one type of light, which is why your mitochondria are best able to absorb and utilize the sun’s light. They struggle when exposed to modern-day lighting.
In the early 1900s, the incandescent light bulb was introduced. Humans were now able to illuminate the dark. Fortunately, the wavelengths found in the incandescent light bulb were not too far off from that of the sun.
The compact fluorescent light was invented in 1976 and made its way into houses and offices in the 1980s. (2) Compact fluorescent bulbs are the spiral bulbs like the one found in the picture at the top of this post. The fluorescent tube lights – the ones you commonly see in office spaces – began being sold in 1938, making their way into most offices by the 1950s. (3)
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are the most recent lights to enter the commercial market. They were developed in the 1990s and only became affordable in the past few years. (4) LEDs are adored for their long lifespan – lasting ten times longer than incandescent bulbs. More recently, these bulbs have come enabled with wifi allowing you to adjust the brightness with your phone.
It is the compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs that affect your mitochondria in a very bad way. These lights lack the wavelengths/frequencies found in natural sunlight. The infrared, red, and violet wavelengths found in sunlight are completely eliminated from LEDs and CFLs. And the blue light frequency has been amplified.
Take a look at an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb. Notice how the light emitted has a warm orange/red/yellow color to it. These are the red, infrared, and violet wavelengths being expressed. Now, look at an LED or CFL. Notice how that light looks blue and white, and it’s almost irritatingly bright – this is the blue wavelength predominantly expressed.
Your genes have been exposed to sunlight for millions of years and to blue light for less than thirty years. It makes sense that your genes have not adapted to this modern, artificial light. And because of it, your mitochondria are suffering. This is how something seemingly as benign as the lights in your house could actually be adding to your fatigue.
Shedding some light on your mitochondria
Your mitochondria are your body’s power plants. These tiny structures, found within nearly every cell in your body, produce a substance called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). And ATP is the energy that powers your body.
Those with chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis) have a reduced functioning of their mitochondria. This results in a net energy deficit. (5) In order to increase your energy and overcome fatigue, you need to optimize your mitochondrial function.
And the lighting you use in your environment is the perfect place to start.
Just like you, your mitochondria have evolved over millions of years to utilize the energy of the sun. They have not adapted to utilizing the blue wavelengths found in modern daylight sources.
One study showed that after only six hours of exposure to blue light, mitochondria were not able to produce energy as efficiently. As exposure time increased beyond six hours, mitochondrial function continued to decline. (6) It is hypothesized that exposure to blue light increases cellular aging and age-related illness. This occurs because blue light is thought to damage the DNA of your mitochondria.
Suffice it to say that if you’re dealing with fatigue, you need to minimize your exposure to blue light. But what do you use for lighting then?
How to avoid blue light
If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, the very first thing you need to do is ensure your home (and hopefully your office) are free from LEDs and CFLs. Replace these bulbs with incandescents. The small amount of money you save on your energy bill using CFLs or LEDs is not worth the cost to your mitochondria.
If you work in an office where you don’t have control of the lighting, you’re going to need to be extra vigilant. To combat blue light exposure, you need to increase your exposure to red light sources. Your best bet will be getting outside every chance you get.
Take your coffee break outdoors. Go for a walk at lunch. Look out a well-lit window. Try to get outside when the sun is at its zenith in the midday. Stay outside for at least fifteen minutes, ensuring you have as much skin exposed to the sun as comfortable.
What do you do if you live at a latitude that results in very cold temperatures for half the year? Or, if you live in an area constantly covered by clouds?
You’re going to need to use technology to increase your red light exposure. In the morning, expose your body to an ultraviolet sun lamp. I recommend spending 10-15 minutes each morning during the winter months in front of it. While working in your office, invest in some red LEDs. These will ensure your mitochondria get exposed to the red wavelength during the day. This simple act will improve your mitochondrial function and in turn increase your energy levels.
While the type of light is indeed very important, the time in which your body gets exposed to light is equally important.
AM light and PM light
Do you hit the snooze button each morning?
This morning fatigue is often caused by a suppression in your cortisol awakening response (CAR). The cortisol awakening response is a surge in your cortisol levels shortly after waking. It is this surge in cortisol that should energize you to get out of bed in the morning.
In order to trigger a healthy CAR, you need to get exposed to sunlight immediately after waking. If you live at a latitude that results in a sunrise well after your alarm, you need to invest in a full spectrum UV light. Turn your UV light on immediately after your alarm goes off. This will mimic a sunrise ensuring your body has a healthy cortisol awakening response. This is why so many people notice an increase in fatigue during the winter months – a lack of sunlight exposure.
As the day progresses into night, you’re going to want to decrease your body’s exposure to blue light. Blue light is the wavelength that signals to your body that it’s daytime. It’s this wavelength that suppresses melatonin production. Remember, you need your body to produce melatonin in order to easily fall asleep.
In the evening, ensure your electronic devices (cell phone, computer, television, etc.) have their blue light filter enabled. This blocks the blue light frequency from screens which ensures your body is still able to produce melatonin before bed. There are apps like f.lux that you can install on your devices to ensure blue light is blocked when the sun starts to set. Most cell phones come equipped with blue-light blockers in their operating system.
Devices aside, as you approach bedtime, you are going to want to decrease your body’s exposure to all light sources. Your skin is the largest organ in your body and it is full of light receptors. Even if your eyes are not exposed to light, your skin will be. Dim all your lights two hours before bed and be absolutely certain that your body is not being exposed to any sources of blue light.
Make your bedroom as dark as a cave. It should be so dark that you struggle to see your hand in front of your face. Blackout blinds are a must (especially in the summer months). Ensuring your bedroom is this dark will allow your body to produce enough melatonin to keep you asleep all night long. Restful sleep is absolutely essential for anyone working towards overcoming fatigue.
One last trick that can improve your sleep is to purchase (and use) orange-lensed glasses in the evening. These glasses block the blue wavelength from entering your eyes. Doing this will help increase your body’s melatonin production resulting in a more restful sleep.
Ok, now you know just how important the right type of light exposure is in overcoming fatigue. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It is so important that I include it in my e-Book Seven Small Steps you can take to overcome fatigue today.
Also published on Medium.