Get Sunlight, But Not Too Much

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

We’re getting to the sweet spot of spring where the days are as long as the weather is pleasant. It might even catch you off guard to step outside late one evening expecting the sun to have set and being greeted by the bright outdoors. I’m not complaining. But as pleasant as these sunny days are, there’s reason to be extra thankful for this season and a few key reasons to get out there and enjoy the sun, but with the facts to know that you’re doing it safely.

Regulating Sleep

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

If you own plants, you may be familiar with some kinds that physically respond to sunlight — I used to own one that closed up at night and opened up its leaves during the day. This happens in some plants due to circadian rhythm, which simply put, is a regulatory mechanism that allows plants to predict changes in their environment, especially light-related changes. Humans have a circadian rhythm too, and this internal clock is the reason why one may find themselves tired at around the same time every night, or notice the effects of jetlag on sleep. We know that there are tons of ways people regulate sleep — from coffee to melatonin — and just like those substances manipulate the sleep-wake cycle, so can light. In fact, that’s the reasoning behind why looking at your phone before bed is not recommended, as the blue light can prolong melatonin onset (generally speaking, melatonin is what makes you sleepy).

So how does sunlight play in? Well, due to the effect of light on melatonin, among other factors, some studies have shown that exposing yourself to bright light in the early part of the day can lead to a better night’s sleep. Pair this knowledge with the other benefits of sunlight and being outdoors, and a mid-morning walk is a no-brainer.

Vitamin D

Note: Please read the paragraph on Safety in conjunction with this one.

Aside from getting our Vitamin D from multivitamins, fortified milk, or fish, one added benefit of spending time in the sun is the production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in absorbing calcium, which ultimately leads to healthier bones. When sunlight is absorbed through the skin, the body activates a compound into this vitamin. A healthy amount of Vitamin D not only keeps bones strong and can help treatment of some skin conditions like psoriasis. A deficiency of Vitamin D can also lead to mental health issues like depression.

Safety

Photo by BATCH by Wisconsin Hemp Scientific on Unsplash

As attractive as the above rewards of sunlight are, the most important part of enjoying sunlight is moderation. Too much sun is not a good thing. Overexposure can be the culprit of sunburns, wrinkles, or unfortunately, skin cancer. The same ultraviolet-B light that causes Vitamin D production can cause sunburns and skin cancers. And because sunscreen blocks UVB, it would also reduce Vitamin D production.

So how much sun should you aim to get? Dr. Stephen I. Katz of the NIH says that “you need very little exposure — something like 10 to 15 minutes a day to the backs of your hands, arms, and face — to get enough (Vitamin D)”. In addition, you can also ensure you’re eating foods with or fortified with Vitamin D, protect yourself with sunscreen, and enjoy brief moments in the sun.

For more information about sun safety, you can read more here at the NIH site.

I hope this served as a small reminder of the bounties of this season, as well as a good reminder to stay active and wear sunscreen when you can outdoors. Thanks for reading! Follow me here for updates on new pieces on mental health and wellness. And click to follow me on instagram here.

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Marissa Abram, PhD

Educator, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Addiction Researcher and Founder of Strategic Wellness Management.