How lighting can affect your mood

May 10, 2011 at 9:51 p.m. ET

On a bright and sunny day, do you feel noticeably cheery? Does your energy tend to plummet on dark days? If you said yes, you are not alone. Researchers have long suggested that lighting plays a key factor in determining our mood. And some studies suggest women are more sensitive to light than men.


"It's amazing that lighting can affect one's mood, but it really can," says Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., NIMH researcher and author of Transcendence: Healing And Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation (Tarcher Penguin June 2011). "That's why people get special lighting experts to create an atmosphere in a restaurant or on the stage in the theater."

Dr. Rosenthal says lighting can alter our brain chemistry, leading to mood shifts. "One of the best studied aspects of the effects on light on mood is related to the total amount of daylight present. Some people are exquisitely sensitive to this, and on dark days -- especially during the winter -- their mood plummets. The best explanation for this is that levels of the soothing brain chemical serotonin are at their lowest on dark days. Giving people extra light on these days is thought to boost their brain serotonin levels and restore their good humor," says Dr. Rosenthal.

Seasonal Anxiety Disorder

In some cases, increased sensitivity to light and seasonal changes can bring on severe depression and anxiety. Seasonal Anxiety Disorder is most common during winter months, but symptoms can linger all year long. Dr. Rosenthal says light therapy may provide some relief for those who suffer with this disorder. "One theory suggests that light therapy (which is usually most effective when given in the morning) shifts biological rhythms in a helpful way. Finally, light may work by suppressing the secretion of yet another substance -- in this case, the hormone melatonin -- which is known to be important for choreographing responses to the seasons in many different kinds of animals," says Dr. Rosenthal.

Lighten Your Mood

Luckily, there are lots of ways people can help improve their mood. Try these:

More about seasonal mood disorders

Seasonal Affective Disorder: The winter depression
When weather gets you down
Study shows light therapy to effectively treat mood disorders