Why Sunlight Is Important To Your Mental Health

Sunlight Improves Mental HealthWhen somebody’s depressed, they say he’s in a dark mood.  The link between depression and darkness is not only metaphorical, but may actually be literal, as one study has shown.

The study involved keeping rats in darkness for six weeks.  Scientists observed that the brain cells, or neurons, which are involved in controlling emotions, began to die.  This was a form of brain damage in brain regions that, in humans, are known to be underactive during depression.  The study claims that the neuronal death may be the underlying cause of darkness-related blues.

The depressive behavior exhibited by the rats in the study which was caused by light deprivation may stem from the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm.  Changes in brain systems that regulate mood may occur when an organism’s circadian system does not receive normal light stimuli.

Get sunlight especially during the fall and winter seasons.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that many suffer during the fall and winter seasons.  Sunlight is scarce during these months.  Another form of depression that is less serious and that arises during these seasons is the “winter blues.”  Both these conditions are directly related to inadequate sunlight.

Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that contributes to mood regulation.  People with depressive behavior have shown lower levels of serotonin than normal; the same results were observed in healthy people during the winter.

Studies have shown that the levels of serotonin are directly related to how much sunlight the body is exposed to.  The brain has higher serotonin levels during days with plenty of sunlight than during days with less.

People who live in the higher latitudes, where there is limited light exposure, have shown a higher occurrence of seasonal affective disorder.  The incidence in the US also rises during the fall and winter seasons.  All these lead to the conclusion that very limited sunlight exposure for very long periods of time may have a negative impact on a person’s mood, often leading to depression.

The body needs sunlight to function properly.

The body has a biological clock which involves many of the internal physiological systems to keep in tune with the rhythms in nature, most importantly, the cycles of night and day.  This internal biological clock is regulated by the body’s circadian rhythms, in response to both internal and external stimuli, like sunlight, which is believed to be very important in synchronizing the body’s circadian rhythms and ensuring that the body functions properly.  Our daily habit of waking up in the morning and sleeping at night is one of the most important products of circadian rhythm.

When the body does not get enough sunlight because the person has been confined to the hospital for a few weeks or has been stuck inside the house for days due to bad weather, the brain will undergo changes that may eventually result in negative moods.  In addition, the hibernation hormone, melatonin, will increase with decreased light, which will eventually lead to a feeling of tiredness.

The body has other internal clocks which work both independently and together to keep the body running properly, controlling temperature and the release of hormones.  These clocks include the brain, lungs, liver, heart, and skeletal muscles.

How To Give Your Body Adequate Light Exposure

No matter what the season, it is very important to spend some time out in the sun.  During the summer season, however, you should know how much time under the sun is safe for you.  The amount of sunlight you require also depends on the months of the year and if you are light or dark skinned.  During months when the sun is lower in the sky for most of the day, a person with light skin will need more than 20 minutes of sunlight, while a person with dark skin will need 60 to 90 minutes of sunlight.

During the winter months or days when you have to stay indoors, it is very important to make up for the loss of exposure to bright light to keep your serotonin levels high and your moods elevated.  If you can afford it, you can move to a place with a more ideal climate during the winter season.  A more practical option is to replace the light bulbs in your home and office with full-spectrum bulbs, which will give you the same qualities of natural light.
Good full-spectrum lighting should give you a natural and balanced source of light indoors and should have infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths.  During darker days, full-spectrum lighting goes a long way towards boosting your tolerance and is the next best thing to natural sunlight.

More Tips to Help Boost your Mood

Sunlight is a great mood booster, but there are other ways that you can improve your state of mind all throughout the year.

  • Have a healthy diet.  Keeping the body fit and healthy greatly impacts a person’s state of mind.
  • Know which foods affect your moods and how they affect your moods, like grains and sugar for example.
  • Make sure that your Vitamin D levels are at their optimum.
  • Get plenty of exercise.  Physical activity is also a good mood booster.
  • Add foods which are high in omega 3 fats to your diet, specifically, animal-based omega 3.

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2 Responses

  1. This is an excellent blog! I never thought that darkness is closely associated with depression, and that sunlight gives us more than just vitamin D! Thank you for the information.

  2. Richard, Leeds says:

    It is certainly very true that a sunny day will raise my mood.

    At least we’ve had the shortest day now!

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