A little ray of sunlight: the wellbeing benefits of regular sun exposure
We’ve all had the negative effects of too much sun drilled into us. However, in regular small amounts, sunlight has many health benefits including enhanced sleep and mood, maintenance of bone health and immune function, reduced stress and as a treatment for numerous skin and auto immune conditions.
How much and when?
Five to 15 minutes of sunlight for fair to medium skinned people and up to 30 minutes for those with darker skin, on uncovered arms, hands and face a few times a week is usually sufficient to bring health benefits. Sun exposure before midday is thought to be best so try to plan to get a little bit of sun most days before midday. You could: go for a morning walk; exercise outside; have your coffee break or read or do your work outside or near a window.
Sunlight regulates your circadian rhythm or 24 hour body clock. Exposure to sunlight in the morning helps your body produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, later in the day. It is produced in the pituitary gland, from the chemical melanin which is made in the skin through sun exposure. Melatonin production increases with evening darkness to help you get sleepy. Without proper exposure to light and dark our body clock gets out of whack and sleep quality and quantity is reduced. Hence it is essential to get sunlight in the morning.
It is thought that melatonin also decreases your stress response. A 2017 animal study, showed that melatonin increased levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in certain parts of the brain. Higher GABA levels have a calming effect and reduce symptoms of anxiety. A 2018 human study showed that melatonin reduced anxiety in patients before surgery.
Exposure to sunlight increases the release of serotonin by the brain. This is the feel-good hormone, helping you feel calm and focused. The pineal gland also metabolizes serotonin into melatonin for better sleep later in the evening.
Makes Vitamin D
When sunlight hits the cholesterol in your skin cells, it provides the energy for Vitamin D production to occur. Vitamin D decreases the cellular growth which stimulates cancer and increases cell differentiation to put cells into an anti-cancer condition. This is why a lack of vitamin D has been linked to cancers such as breast, ovarian, prostate and colon. It is also essential for:
Bone health – helping the body to maintain calcium and thus preventing thin and brittle bones.
Immune function – it helps reduce the risk of illness, infections, some cancers and death after surgery. Research is showing links between sunlight and conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease and thyroiditis.
Healing some skin conditions - it can be helpful for psoriasis, eczema, jaundice and acne.
Can’t get outside? Get more light inside
If you are stuck inside for health reasons, mobility issues or work, here are some ideas to get more natural sunlight inside:
Install mirrors – these will help bounce light around a room.
Place shinny or metallic objects where the sun will hit them so the rays bounce around the room.
Keep the blinds and curtains fully open during the day.
Use white, light and pastel paint colours on your walls - this help will reflect the sun.
Have light coloured floors or light coloured rugs.
Try a light therapy box – these mimic natural outdoor light. Check with your doctor before use to determine if it could benefit you.