Let the sun shine: how the sun can impact wellbeing

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Sunny days are on the way, and the natural world isn’t the only thing that will start to flourish…

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

With what often felt like one of the longest winters in living memory finally behind us, many people are already feeling the mental health benefits of the lighter mornings and longer days. But why is that? Here, we explain why having the sun on your skin can make you feel brighter.

Vitamin D

Sometimes referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D is important for bone health, as it helps us absorb calcium – but did you know we also have vitamin D receptors in the brain? This is part of the direct relationship between vitamin D and the creation of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’.

If the sun starts to shine, and you begin to feel perkier, it’s no coincidence. Vitamin D is key when it comes to our mental health, but many people in the UK have low levels, or even vitamin D deficiencies. Many studies find lower levels of circulating serotonin in people with depression and chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and endometriosis. It has also been suggested that vitamin D can help to reduce inflammation in the brain – something which can cause ‘brain fog’ and grogginess.

Even just 30 minutes each day of being out in the sun can go a long way to support your serotonin production, and you don’t have to be out exercising. You could spend some time sitting and relaxing in your garden, or on a park bench, soaking up the rays.

The sleep cycle

When the optic nerve registers sunshine, and helps the body to create serotonin, this ‘happy’ chemical turns into melatonin – the sleep hormone. Disrupted sleep cycles and poor mental health often go hand-in-hand, and who doesn’t feel better after a good night’s rest?

Getting out into the natural light within an hour of waking will help to regulate your sleep-wake cycle by ‘switching on’ your internal clock, which signals to the body when to create sleep-promoting chemicals. To set this off, try factoring-in time to have a 30-minute walk in the mornings, before or after your breakfast.

Lowering blood pressure

High blood pressure is often related to high levels of stress and/or anxiety. Lower blood pressure levels are associated with feelings of calm or relaxation – and, interestingly, getting out in the sun can actually help contribute to this.

Nitric oxide, a molecule produced in the body, is released when the sunshine hits your skin. This lowers your blood pressure which, in turn, helps you to feel more relaxed. This said, you should speak to your GP, and follow their guidance, if you have any concerns about your blood pressure.

The soothing power of nature

It’s only natural that when the sun is shining you feel more inclined to get outdoors. Studies have linked spending time outside with a wealth of mental health benefits and, in many cases, the activities we do outside promote mental health in itself – for example, gardening, going for walks, or practising mindfulness –  and this can further help to reduce stress and promote feelings of relaxation. All this together is enough to brighten up any day!

Before you rush out, it’s important to be safe during your sun exposure. Wear sunscreen, avoid tanning beds, and stay hydrated.

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