Sunshine and mental health are connected? Yes, the same sunshine that illuminates our Earth, and glorifies its natural beauty will do the same work on your mood. Sun not only brightens up the day but also brightens up OUR DAY.
(Note: This doesn’t mean you should soak all the sun in 1 day. Overexposure to the sun can be harmful too. I’ll tell later how much sunshine is required on average for a person)
What does sunshine do to our health?
It makes sense why sunshine is symbolised as a beacon of hope and incoming good times in our society. It truly is a torch of wellness on our health. Be it our physical health, mental health, cellular health or immunity. Let’s first look at what wonders this light of life does to us, before quenching our curiosity about why it does these wonders –
Benefits of sunlight on health
- Reduced blood pressure – New research has shown that exposure to incident UV rays from the sun is linked to lowered blood pressure. As a result of UV exposure, Nitric oxide is released from the skin into the bloodstream. Nitric oxide relaxes the muscles in the blood vessels, causing them to widen. Thereby, lowering the blood pressure and further even lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin – I think this is probably one of the most heard-about benefits of sunshine. UVB rays hit the cholesterol cells on the skin, kickstarting the synthesis of Vitamin D. Now, this sunshine vitamin is responsible for boosting our bone health, immune health, dental health, tissue health, and colon health apart from regulating calcium and phosphorus absorption.
- Keeps cancer at bay – Over-exposure to sunlight can lead to cancer, skin cancer specifically. But a safe amount of it can help prevent it too. As per researchers, people who don’t get sufficient UVB rays exposure are significantly more likely to develop deadly cancers (including colon, breast, ovarian, and melanoma) than people who do get a sufficient amount of sunshine exposure.
- Sleep – Sunlight can help regulate sleep patterns and hormones by affecting the melatonin circadian rhythm ( basically our body’s biological 24-hour clock which tells us when to sleep and when to stay alert). Melatonin is a hormone that helps induce sleep and is produced in the pineal gland from the chemical melanin. This melanin is produced in the skin through sun exposure, especially during the day (Sunlight also suppresses melatonin production in the mornings to make our body alert for the day). In other words, the same sun that awakens us compensates for it too.
Sunshine and mental health
Now let’s talk about the main topic of this post.
So what’s the deal with this sunlight? How does it affect our mood? Does this mean that we should stay outdoors all the time to stay happy?
Well, time to answer! ( Well, the last one is obviously a big NO! )
How are they connected?
Sunshine and mental health are connected multi-dimensionally. Sunlight affects a lot of things which in turn affect our mood or mental health. Let’s look at them one by one –
- The sunshine vitamin (Vitamin D) and SAD – Many studies and research have shown that people who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are associated with a deficiency of Vitamin D. The reverse is also true, i.e. Vitamin D decreases the likelihood of a person to suffer from SAD. SAD is a type of depression with recurring seasonal patterns. Its symptoms arise in the late fall and disappear as spring approaches and solar therapy (exposure to sunlight) is an actual treatment for this disorder.
- Sunlight and Serotonin – As sunlight enters our eyes, it stimulates the retina to send signals to the brain to produce serotonin. This neurotransmitter hormone is found to have a big role in regulating mood, memory, happiness, sleep, appetite etc. Now, given serotonin’s nature to alleviate our moods, don’t think of it as the cure for your sadness or depression altogether. Even studies have shown that serotonin won’t cure depression. However, it will enhance our positive emotional processing and subsequently our mood.
- Sleep and mental health – I think I’ve told you earlier too that sunlight also helps in better sleep due to the production of a sleep-inducing melatonin. However, sleep and stress are linked too. Better sleep helps in mood regulation, enhances the body’s ability to cope with stress and decreases the likelihood of the development of mood disorders.
So let’s sum it up now.
Sunshine undeniably impacts mental health, triggering a cascade of physiological and biological processes that exert a profound influence on well-being. It also regulates melatonin production, influencing our circadian rhythm, which in turn governs our sleep patterns—a factor shown to significantly impact mental health. The natural light also triggers the synthesis of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter hormone, serotonin. Many disorders such as mood disorders and SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) have shown a negative correlation with a lack of sunlight exposure. Thus indicating that sunlight exposure can be used to treat such seasonal depressive disorders.
However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to form a concrete link between mental health and sunlight. There are a lot of studies that show that although sunlight may be a treatment for seasonal depression, it doesn’t do as much in the case of non-seasonal depression. One study showed that sunlight can affect mood negatively in the short term. It had a positive effect only in the long run ( at least a 30-day period). Sunlight in summer, especially in hot regions of the earth, can also negatively affect our mood. There can be physical difficulties too in such conditions like sunburns and increased levels of stress (in people suffering from anxiety disorders).
So, we should look at this tie between light and delight with nuance. We must definitely have a sunlight session each day, for it has many positive effects on our overall well-being and not just mental health. And we must recognize that mental health is a very complex thing, a single solution like exposure to sunshine won’t be a cure-all for all its problems. Like if you’re in a really bad mental state, you can’t bet on the sun to make u happy.
What is the right amount of sunshine?
We should also know the right amount of sunlight for our body because as I said earlier, too much sunlight exposure is bad too. So what’s the right amount?
First of all, let me clear 1 thing at what time we should get it for the maximum benefit? So, the best time to get sunshine exposure is midday or noon as that’s the time when UV rays are the most intense.
Before I tell you the numbers for the sunshine time, it’s important to understand that this number depends on a lot of factors such as skin type, geographical location, season and age.
Darker people have to spend more time in the sun than fair-skinned folk. This is because of the presence of melanin, the pigment that makes the skin dark and protects it from sunburns and UV rays. Moreover, the elderly and infants have to spend more time than adults under the sun.
And now, knowing all this, let me give you those numbers
According to the TOI, fair-skinned people need 20 min of direct sunlight exposure 3-4 times a week. Whereas, darker-skinned people require 3-40 min of sunshine exposure 3-4 times a week. ( All this data is for India and nearby geographical locations)
For more details on this, check out this article!