The role of the sun in fighting depression

by Staff writer

While too much of the sun’s warm rays can be harmful to your skin, research has shown that the right amount of sunlight 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.

Normally produced during the day, serotonin is converted to melatonin in darkness. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for helping a person feel sleepy at night and go to sleep.

According to several studies, moderately high levels of serotonin can result in more positive moods and a calm and focused mental outlook.

Without enough sunlight exposure, a person’s serotonin levels can drop so low as to increase the risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD, also called seasonal depression or winter blues, is a form of mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in the winter.

Studies have shown that you are more likely to experience SAD in the winter when there is less sunlight and the days are shorter while nights are longer.

Exposure to sunlight have also been found to benefit those suffering from nonseasonal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and in pregnant women with depression, according to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.

Anxiety-related disorders and panic attacks have also been linked with changing seasons and reduced sunlight.

While researchers don’t always have an exact measurement for how long you should stay outside to reap these benefits, it is advised that any daily exposure to sunlight can be extremely beneficial to health.

For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically.

Sunglasses may further limit the eyes’ access to full sunlight, thereby altering serotonin and melatonin rhythms.

So going shades-free in the daylight, even for just 10–15 minutes, could confer significant health benefits.

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