Sunlight is our best friend.
Don’t believe me? Well, let me convince you.
We all have heard a lot about how sunlight is essential for Vitamin D production in our body and how Vitamin D is essential for the strength of our bones. But the reality is that the effects of sunlight on our lives go far beyond that. Let me point out those benefits one after the other. Then you can decide for yourself whether I was right when I said that Sunlight is your best friend.
Benefits of Sunlight
Sunlight and Depression
As understood above, we know that serotonin affects our mood significantly. It has been observed that low levels of serotonin in our body are associated with a higher risk of depression. Low levels of serotonin can also trigger fatigue and a lack of vitality in one’s life.
The deep relationship between serotonin levels and depression can be understood in the case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder that is triggered by a change in seasons. The symptoms of depression are much more prominent during the winter and fall seasons. During summer and spring seasons, the symptoms become much milder. During the summer, the exposure to sunlight is higher, leading to greater production of serotonin, as compared to the winter season. In fact, doctors are suggesting Light Therapy as a solution to SAD. In Light Therapy, the patient is exposed to an artificial source of light in order to balance the serotonin levels in the body and adjust the biological clock.
It sounds so awesome that little exposure to sunlight every day goes a long way in preventing depression in our lives.
Lower Blood Pressure
Sunlight is helpful in decreasing our blood pressure. Sunlight triggers a reaction in the nitric oxide present in the top layers of the skin, leading to an expansion of the blood vessels and ultimately, the reduction in the blood pressure of the body.
Sunlight and Thyroidism
A deficiency in Vitamin D has often been linked to thyroid-related conditions, especially autoimmune thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Also, sunlight affects the production of melatonin and cortisol in the body, which may interact with thyroid hormone production. An intake of Vitamin D supplements and exposure to sunlight may reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism and related autoimmune conditions.
Strengthening our Bones
Exposure to sunlight helps in the production of Vitamin D in our body which helps in strengthening our bones by increasing the absorption of calcium in the bones. It in turn helps in preventing related medical conditions such as rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
Sunshine can help in preventing the onset of various types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, colon cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and prostate cancer. Also, research has shown that people living in areas receiving less sunlight are more likely to be affected by these types of cancer.
Sunlight and Autoimmune Disorders
The relationship between sunlight and autoimmune disorders is a mixed bag. While a lot of research points towards sunlight preventing and reducing the severity of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Type 1 Diabetes and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), on the other hand, exposure to sunshine may worsen other autoimmune diseases such as Lupus.
Therefore, further research is required to properly conclude the relationship between exposure to sunlight and autoimmune disorders. In the meanwhile, patients with autoimmune disorders must take the opinion of a medical professional regarding one’s personal health condition.
Sunlight and Sleep
Sleep is one of the most underrated pleasures of our lives. The quality of sleep affects our happiness in a significant way. In order to get the sleep that rests and energises you, you must get your daily dose of sunshine. Let me explain how it works.
Our sleep is regulated by a hormone called melatonin that affects the circadian rhythm of the body. Melatonin is a hormone that our brains produce in response to darkness. Ideally, one’s body must produce high melatonin levels during the night, which, in turn, triggers sleep. Our sleep cycle does not function properly without this required amount of melatonin at night. But, if we do not get the required exposure to sunlight, the melatonin levels in our body peak much earlier in the day. Hence, we may feel drowsy and fatigued much earlier than we need to be. Also, during the night when we need to be sleepy, the melatonin levels are not as low as needed and hence we find it difficult to go to sleep.
This problem is further magnified when we understand the role of another hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, vitality, cognition and feeling of well-being. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin. In other words, our body uses serotonin to produce melatonin. So, if the serotonin is produced in high levels during the day, only then, later in the night the body would convert that serotonin to produce high levels of melatonin. But how does the body produce the required amount of serotonin? Yeah, you guessed it right! Sufficient exposure to sunlight during the daytime is essential for the body to produce the required amount of serotonin.
Taking this idea further, we can understand why exposure to screens such as laptops, television, and mobile phones affects our sleep cycle. These screens radiate blue light which affects the brain circuits. On being exposed to blue light, our body produces serotonin. As we know, serotonin helps us feel more energetic and hence blocks the production of melatonin during that time. Therefore, we are unable to go to sleep soon and it takes some time for the body’s melatonin levels to reach the required levels.
Simply put, Blue light = Serotonin = To Melatonin = No Sleep
If we are able to produce the required levels of serotonin during the daytime by exposing ourselves to sunlight, it would become much easier for the body to increase the melatonin levels at night and minimise the effects of any exposure to blue light.
How to expose yourself to sunlight?
The best times to receive sunlight are 1 hour after sunrise and 1 hour before sunset as these are the safest times to absorb sunlight. However, the time of sunrise is the ideal time to absorb Vitamin D. If you are unable to absorb sunlight during these hours, you can soak yourself in sunlight during other hours before noon.
Generally, exposure to sunshine for 10-30 minutes is ideal. But it depends on the place you live and the colour of your skin. In areas farther from the equator, exposure to sunshine for a greater time is required, as compared to areas near the equator. Further, a person with darker skin requires greater exposure to sunlight to produce the same amount of Vitamin D3 as a person with pale skin.
Also, one must ensure that the skin on the body is properly exposed to the sun and that exposure is not entirely blocked by one’s clothing.
It is necessary to make sure that you do not overexpose your skin to the sun because that may have harmful effects such as skin cancer, sunburn, and eye damage.
If one can take out 15-20 minutes in a day to relax in the sunshine, it would go a long way in improving the quality of our lives. Modern civilization may demand a busy lifestyle, but if we are able to spare a small portion of it for our well-being, it would make our lives much more enjoyable.
I don’t know if I have been able to convince you that sunlight is your best friend. But, I hope I have convinced you to sit on your balcony for a while every day.