For mental health and wellness, there are a few factors that go into maintaining an internal equilibrium, keeping both the mind, body and spirit happy. One of the most important and easy to maintain factors is sun exposure.
For years now, the relationship between human wellness and the sun or exposure to vitamin D has been studied and documented, this will aid in our exploration of the myriad of ways in which sun and light exposure can help the body maintain its homeostasis and keep it and the mind healthy and happy. We’ll also include some ways that you can aid this process for overall well-being.
Sun and sleep
With late nights being a major part of how we socialize, many of us have become accustomed to living in a way that might be hurting our natural sleep cycle, as our internal clocks are set by the sunrise and sunset. In the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls our 24hr circadian clock, sunlight sets this clock running while sunset triggers the release of melatonin in response to darkness. Sending a message to the body to show that it's time to sleep.
For those that live in climates with minimal exposure to sunlight or with longer winters, this process might be even more so affected. This means that poor sun exposure or staying up too late might cause more harm to the body and mind by disrupting regular sleep patterns.
Sun and mental health
With a lack of sunlight affecting sleep cycles, another area that it impacts is mental health. Not only does improper sleep affect mental wellbeing but low sun exposure can cause many to feel more anxious, tired and with a low mood or unmotivated. As seen in this study by the Mayo Clinic, winter weather and lack of sunlight can worsen the condition known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder) whereby you might feel depression and a lack of energy in the winter months.
Sun and physical health
For sunlight and physical wellbeing, the importance cannot be understated. Not only does it keep the mind healthy, but it contributes to lowering blood pressure through the release of nitric oxide into the bloodstream, helping to stave off heart attacks and maintain overall heart health.
Vitamin D exposure has also been linked to improving bone strength and helping to prevent conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Increasing sun exposure and Vitamin D levels:
Fret not, if you are in a part of the world that perhaps doesn’t get much sun or you’re realizing that perhaps you could do with some more sunlight in your life, here are some great ways to increase your exposure.
Sun lamps and light therapy have become more popular in the last few years and although they won’t cure all symptoms, the lamps have been found to help reduce some like depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D supplements
Although it can be gained through eating certain foods, for others it might be better to take the supplement, which might also be more readily available. Just to be sure to make sure it's a form of Vitamin D that is absorbable by the body.
Being in nature
As seen in our previous article on connecting with nature, being in nature and grounding yourself can have many benefits for the body and mind, while also being one of the easiest and most affordable ways to get in those sun rays while potentially connecting with a loved one or discovering new hobbies.
Watching the sunrise & sunset
While wonderful for its aesthetic purpose, especially if you’re indulging on your early morning run or hike, taking in the sunrise is an easy way to help set yourself up for a good night of sleep by starting that 24 hr body clock countdown.
It's often underestimated just how intrinsically our well-being is tied to nature. Allowing yourself the time and space to take a moment of stillness in the sun allows for the reset and regulation of internal systems. So the next time you’re blessed with a beautiful blue skied sunny day, make the most of it and feel the grass or beach sand beneath your feet.
By Sineade Williams