Working in the sun

I do not, normally, consider myself a low-energy person — I am, after all, running two companies (Trombly International and the China Speakers Bureau) and starting a third (Hyperica). But I do notice that my energy flags at certain times — such as when I’m in Moscow. And I’m full of energy in other locations, like Tajikistan or Shanghai or New York. Working inside, at a computer, slows me down. Working in the garden revs me up.

Worst job of my life? Programming in the basement of  a building during the winter. Best job? On the front lines in Abkhazia, on the Black Sea.

I naturally assumed from this that I was an adrenalin junkie who hates routine and loves strenuous physical work.

Then, this past spring, in my doctor’s office, I reported that my energy levels were up sharply. My work habits hadn’t changed — I was still sitting behind a computer.

The doc asked me if I was sleeping less as well. I was. And did I feel fewer cravings for carbohydrates? Why, yes, I did.

He suggested that the sun might be responsible. The spring brought with it not only more hours of sunshine, but also an incentive to go outside and enjoy the warmer weather. He recommended that I try out full-spectrum light bulbs.

Sun Light Floor LampI went out and bought a Sun Light Floor Lamp at Home Depot and put it in my living room next to the couch. My living room is the darkest room in the house, with a northern exposure. Normally I sit down on the couch after a day’s work and barely have energy to watch TV or read.

With the new lamp, the couch not only instantly became friendlier and more inviting, but a source of a second wind for me. I would forget to eat as I redesigned my company’s website templates, wrote articles, and edited books. And learned PHP. I would force myself to go to bed around 3 or 4 in the morning, my head still buzzing with ideas.

When I went back to the doc and reported that the light works, he warned me against a potential side effect — I might not get sleepy if I kept the light on too long. I was also advised to try Vitamin D supplements.

I moved the light out of the living room to my office, just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend. The weather was cloudy, and I spent most of it inside. My Monday night, I had lost hope that the economy would ever recover, that business would ever pick up, that the new startup would take off, and that I would ever get into shape.

The next day, I was back under the sun lamp, and things snapped back into place. I bought two more lamps, and plan to buy more. I’ve already ordered full-spectrum light bulbs.

If they aren’t enough, I’ll install the full-spectrum shop lights in my office and living room (disguised as plant lights, so I don’t look totally crazy). And next fall, when the days start getting shorter, if my energy levels drop, I’ll go back to the doc to find out whether my insurance covers light boxes.

There are some disagreements about how this all works. Is the light supposed to hit the skin, or the eyes? Is the breadth of wave lengths most important, or the intensity of the light?

There seem to be multiple pathways at work here, resetting your body’s internal mechanism to “hybernate” mode when the light fades.

Maybe this is why Silicon Valley is so innovative. The light is good.