Sunlight increases the level of natural anti-depressant in the human brain, says research. The medical fraternity has always been interested in knowing the relationship between different environmental factors and human health. And, sunlight is the environmental factor that has the most influence on our physical and mental health. Though we are told from our childhood that we need sunlight for vitamin D for better bone health, we seldom discuss the mood-lifting benefits of sunlight.
Let us today discuss the effects sunlight has on our mental health, and most importantly depression.
Sunlight and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental health issue in which the effects of sunlight can be seen very prominently. It is a seasonal mood disorder that is characterized by symptoms of depression occurring at the same time every year. The disorder starts manifesting its symptoms in the seasons with less sunlight. People suffering from SAD start feeling low around the beginning of fall and their symptoms may get worsening (if not intervened) until the winter ends and the sun starts shining some more. These people start naturally feeling better with the advent of spring and longer daylight hours.
If you notice significant changes in mood and behavior with the change of season you might be exhibiting symptoms of SAD. You may check for the following symptoms to know if it’s SAD that’s affecting your mood –
- Increased hours of sleep (hypersomnia)
- Overeating, especially due to carbohydrate cravings
- Feeling like hibernating; not enjoying usual social interaction
- Feeling sad or depressed for no particular reason
- Feeling agitated and sluggish
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
If you see clear symptoms of SAD or any other mental issues, you should always take professional advice.
Research has shown a clear connection between SAD and the amount of sunlight. Evidence shows that lack of sunlight reduces the amount of serotonin thus catalyzing the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The level of serotonin in the brain is affected by the amount of sunlight not only on a seasonal basis but on daily basis. The level of serotonin is higher on bright days and gets reduced on cloudy days. The duration of the bright sunlight also affects the rate of serotonin production.
Benefits of Sunlight on Mental Health
A very important thing to note here is that sunlight cannot cure a clinical diagnosis of any mental health issues, including SAD. But, sunlight surely increases our chances of staying mentally healthy. That being said, let us now see what benefits sunlight brings to our mental health.
- Improved Quality of Sleep – Sunlight is the biggest regulator of our circadian cycle. By regulating the melatonin level in our body, sunlight helps us sleep better and wake up refreshed.
- Boost in Happiness Level – Sunlight is responsible for increasing serotonin, the happy hormones in our body thus lifting our mood instantly. Regular sun exposure can help us live more happily.
- Reduction in Depressive Feelings – Sunlight boosts happy hormones at the same time it also reduces the feeling of depression. Depressive feelings are enhanced due to vitamin D deficiency and we all know sunlight is the most effective thing to fight vitamin D deficiency.
- Reduction in Inflammation – An inflammation may seem to be a physical issue but studies link inflammation with fatigue, depression, anxiety, social depression, etc. Sunlight can help us fight all these mental issues by reducing inflammation.
The Right Way of Exposing Yourself to the Sun
Despite all the benefits of sunlight, we cannot directly go and expose ourselves to sunlight for hours. We all know, too much sun can be really harmful to our health and may cause serious diseases like skin cancer. So, you must understand how you can take the physical and mental benefits of sunlight without putting yourself at risk.
- Whenever going out, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of 15 Sun Protection Factors (SPF). This will keep your skin safe from the dangerous UV rays of the sun.
- If you are into tanning, go and get your tans under direct sunlight. Artificial sources of tanning like sunlamps increase the chances of skin cancer. At this point, you should understand that tanning is not necessary for gaining the health advantages of the sun.
- Try to be in sunlight in the early hours. In the early hours sunlight is not only less scorching but UV radiation too is at its minimum. Avoid being directly in the sun during the peak noon hours.
- Keep your sun-exposure time to a lower level. Do not stay in the sunlight for more than 20 minutes at a stretch without protection.
- Start your mornings with daylight. Try to get into natural light as early as possible. Early morning exposure to sunlight is directly linked with a boost in energy and happy hormones that can last throughout the day.
Regular exposure to sunlight keeps us physically as well as mentally healthy. Though one should remember, sunlight is not a replacement for treatment for people already suffering from a mental health issues. It is important to keep ourselves safe from harmful UV rays at the same time including sun exposure time in our daily routine.
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"Sunlight Shields You from Depression and other Mental Health Issues." Wecapable.com. Web. February 6, 2023. <https://wecapable.com/sunlight-benefits-depression-mental-health/>
Wecapable.com, "Sunlight Shields You from Depression and other Mental Health Issues." Accessed February 6, 2023. https://wecapable.com/sunlight-benefits-depression-mental-health/
"Sunlight Shields You from Depression and other Mental Health Issues." (n.d.). Wecapable.com. Retrieved February 6, 2023 from https://wecapable.com/sunlight-benefits-depression-mental-health/