While too much of the sun’s warm rays can be harmful to your skin, the right balance can have lots of mood lifting benefits.
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting cues trigger the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping a person feel sleepy and go to sleep.
Without enough sunlight exposure, a person’s serotonin levels can dip low. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that is triggered by changing seasons.
A mood boost isn’t the only reason to get increased amounts of sunlight. There are a number of health benefits associated with catching a moderate amount of rays.
Sunlight and Mental Health
According to the Mayo Clinic,decreased sun exposure has been associated with a drop in serotonin that can lead to SAD. You’re more likely to experience SAD in the winter when the days are shorter and the nights are longer.
One of the treatments for SAD is light therapy, which is also known as phototherapy. A doctor can recommend a special light box designed to stimulate the brain to make serotonin and reduce excess melatonin production.
Exposure to sunlight can also benefit those suffering from nonseasonal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and in pregnant women with depression, according to the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. Anxiety-related disorders and panic attacks have also been linked with changing seasons and reduced sunlight.
The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes through the eye. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin.
Additional Sunlight Benefits
The sun’s benefits go beyond just fighting stress. While researchers don’t always have an exact measurement for how long you should stay outside to reap these benefits, the following are some of the other reasons to catch some rays.
Building Strong Bones
Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to create vitamin D. According to a study, in a 30-minute period while wearing a swimsuit, people will make the following vitamin D levels:
50,000 international units (IUs) in most Caucasian people
20,000 to 30,000 IUs in tanned people
8,000 to 10,000 IUs in dark skinned people
The vitamin D made thanks to the sun plays a big role in bone health. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to rickets in children and bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
Although excess sunlight can contribute to skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight has cancer preventive benefits. Those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have a number of cancers than those who live where there’s more sun during the day, according to a study from Environmental Health Perspectives. These cancers include:
Healing Skin Conditions
According to the World Health Organization, sun exposure can treat several skin conditions for the right person. Doctors have recommended UV radiation exposure to treat psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. While light therapy isn’t for everyone, a dermatologist can recommend if light treatments will benefit your skin concerns.
Research studies have revealed preliminary links between sunlight as a potential treatment for a number of conditions. These include:
systemic lupus erytematosus
inflammatory bowel disease
However, more research needs to be conducted before sunlight can be a conclusive treatment for these and other conditions.