Are your spirits lifted when you spend more time outdoors and in the sun? According to research, sunshine does indeed bring a bright spot. Today there is an increasing amount of evidence that supports the prevailing sense that sunlight boosts our mood and can help symptoms of depression. So how is sun connected to mental well-being?
Many of us are familiar with the term winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder, a period of depression that sets in seasonally and has been associated with inactivity and reduced exposure to sunlight. In a study published in the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, neuroscientists observed a link between light deprivation and neuron atrophy, specifically the neurons that produce norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters involved in regulating emotion and cognition. Years of research demonstrates that light exposure therapy has been effective in alleviating seasonal affective disorder.
Newer studies indicate that exposure to sunlight may play a critical role in stabilizing the mood year round. One significant current area of research examines the connection between sunlight, Vitamin D production and mood. A 2006 study suggested a relationship between lower Vitamin D levels and signs of depression and lower cognitive performance. Vitamin D production is triggered when ultraviolet light hits the skin and, in fact, the sun is our major source of vitamin D.
In one study in the United Arab Emirates, a group of individuals with depressive symptoms and low levels of Vitamin D were asked to spend more time in the sun, while another group with similar symptoms were simply instructed to see a doctor. Those that increased there sunlight reported a lighter mood than the control group.
Although Vitamin D production has been cited as a mood elevating benefit of sunlight, the role of visible light cannot be underestimated. Retinal exposure to sunlight is likely to factor in heavily in regulating the mood.
It is evident that sunlight is crucial to our mental health. But how much sunlight exposure do we need? That answer can vary from person to person, but what is clear is that spending too much time indoors and in the dark can compromise our happiness. The simple daily act of going outside and getting some light can make a world of difference.
If you are suffering from depression, it is important to reach out and seek help. For an evaluation of your symptoms and recommendations for treatment, contact Fieve Depression Center.