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How Sunlight Supports Your Mental Health

How Sunlight Supports Your Mental Health

Have you ever noticed that your mood is often better on a bright, sunny day? It’s not just that gray is a more depressing color than blue, there’s science behind it! Sunlight actually does support your mental health. So, how does sunlight help?

How Sunlight Improves Mood

As humans, we are programmed to be awake during the day and sleep at night. The sun is part of our evolution, and our circadian rhythms line up (more or less) with the day-night cycle. We are meant to be outside during the day.

Sunshine exposure increases serotonin production. This is the hormone that tells us to be awake and active. At night, our brain produces melatonin, which encourages sleep. Insufficient sunlight can cause serotonin to dip: this is the root cause of winter seasonal affective disorder. If you wake up in the dark, work or study in a windowless room, and go home in the dark, this may negatively affect your mood. The “winter blues” are a real thing.

Sunlight also improves your sleep quality by helping keep your circadian rhythm on track. Also, we need UV light to synthesize vitamin D, and insufficient vitamin D can also drop your mood. Talk to a medical professional to learn more about vitamin D deficiency.

How Can You Leverage Sunlight?

Seek as much exposure to sunlight as you can. One way to “hack” your body is to take a short walk outside right after you get up or, if possible, eat breakfast outside. Sunlight exposure right at the start of the day clears out sleep inertia (when your brain doesn’t wake up all the way) and resets your circadian rhythm.

At work, go outside during your lunch break, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Wear sunscreen to reduce any damaging effects on your skin. If you have the choice, sit near a window. Keep blinds open in your office or work area.

If all else fails, light therapy can replace sunlight exposure in the winter when the hours of daylight are short.

One way to get outside is to take advantage of state parks. Talk to your doctor about a Park Prescription for a free day pass or discounted annual pass.

To learn more health and wellness tips, read other blogs on our Healthy SD website.