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How Sunlight can affect our mental health

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

We are continuously warned about the sun’s harmful rays and its detrimental effects on our skin and our health, but the right amount of sunlight can actually have a lot more benefits for our health than we think.

Sunlight and darkness are responsible for helping us sleep at night and wake in the morning by releasing different hormones. Exposure to sunlight releases a hormone in our bodies called serotonin which is associated with lifting our mood, enhancing feelings of calm, and wakes us up in a morning. Whilst darkness releases a hormone called melatonin in our brains that helps us sleep at night. Lack of regular sun exposure due to the change of seasons or an increase in daily indoor activity can decrease our serotonin levels which are linked to major depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 5 – 10 minutes of sunlight two to three times a week on your face, arms, or hands is enough to boost your vitamin d levels. In winter it may be hard for some of us to get the right amount of sunlight to maintain our serotonin levels. 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months, and women are 40% more likely to develop winter depression than men.

It is hard for people in the UK to get enough sunlight throughout the long winter months, and that’s why many people flock to sunny destinations around the world throughout the UK winter. But there are other cheaper ways to ensure you get enough vitamin d such as maintaining a healthy diet that includes salmon, shrimp, milk, eggs, and cereals. In addition, it may be beneficial to take sunshine breaks on your lunch hour. It may not seem desirable to go outside and brace the cold of winter, but just 15 minutes a day of sunlight on our face, arms, legs or torso can have a significant impact on our vitamin d levels. Try catching the sun around mid-day in winter as this is when the sun’s rays are strongest and will have the largest impact on our health. Also, light therapy boxes are available to have in the home that can help combat season depression. They work by increasing serotonin levels and reducing excess melatonin in the body by mimicking natural sunlight that regular indoor bulbs do not.

The benefits of sunlight go beyond fighting depression. Sunlight can cause an individual’s skin to create vitamin d which is great for bone health. Low levels of vitamin d can lead to bone wasting diseases such as osteoporosis and osteomalacia. Sunlight is the best natural source for vitamin d. It is now advised that adults and children over the age of 1 should consider taking a daily vitamin d supplement through autumn and winter in the UK to prevent vitamin d deficiencies. Symptoms of vitamin d deficiency include tiredness, muscle aches, bone pains, and weakness, but doctors can properly diagnose a vitamin d deficiency through a blood test. Furthermore, many skin conditions can be treated through sunlight exposure such as eczema, psoriasis, jaundice, and acne. It has been researched that in addition to generating vitamin d, UV radiation from sunlight can help decrease skin inflammation which causes itching, rashes, and dryness that characterizes eczema and other skin conditions.

We need to remember that excess sunlight exposure can be detrimental to our health. We are more likely to become burnt by the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm in the summer when the sun’s rays are more direct. If we are planning on being outside in direct sunlight for more than 15 minutes then it will be beneficial to wear sunscreen to protect ourselves. Our bodies do not produce vitamin d whilst wearing sunscreen or covering up as sunlight cannot penetrate our skin, so it is wise to expose ourselves to sunlight appropriately by avoiding excessive sun exposure without protection.

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