Sun worshippers are aware of the negative implications that the sun can have on the body. From sunburn to wrinkles and in severe cases, skin cancer. However, sunlight is beneficial and healthy for our bodies. It provides us with Vitamin D which is good for our bones, teeth, immune system, and mental health.
Many of us really enjoy the summer months, not solely due to warmer weather, impending holidays or fond childhood memories, but due to the days being longer and brighter. For many of us, this leads to it being bright as we leave for work and bright when we return in the evenings. However, in early November each year we set our clocks back an hour and as a result it stays dark in the mornings and gets dark earlier in the evenings. This often influences people’s mood.
People who live in regions with shorter, darker days are more likely to experience poor mental health. The reasoning behind this is due to our circadian rhythms also known as our ‘body clock’. Our body’s natural clock, which takes prompts from the sun, rules our wake/sleep patterns as well as controlling our mood.
Our ancestors would have been much more in tune with their circadian rhythms, they would wake up when it was bright and go to sleep when it was dark and they would have worked outdoors leading to a lot of sun exposure. Modern life has led us to lose the need to recognise these indicators. This is due to the creation of alarm clocks and artificial light. We now work outside less; some professionals go a working week without seeing proper daylight and when they do step outside, they are not guaranteed bright sunshine in Ireland.
Winter season often commences with cheer and excitement at the thoughts of Christmas. However, many people experience feeling ‘off’ or ‘winter blues’. The clinical term for people experiencing depressive symptoms at a specific time each year is Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD). SAD affect’s one in 15 people in Ireland between September and April each year. Even though the chill in the air might bring you down, SAD relates more to daylight, than temperature.
When our bodies are not getting enough exposure to sunlight our bodies fail to regulate chemicals and hormones linked to energy and mood. These hormones are melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a hormone responsible for making us sleepy at night, its production is increased with a lack of sunlight. This increased melatonin can lead to us feeling drowsy throughout the day. Serotonin is linked to mood and a lack of it is associated with depression.
So, all in all, sun light is very important for our mental health and overall well-being. We may not be blessed with the best weather in Ireland but if the sun happens to be peeking out from inside the clouds get out and go for a walk. Try to get as much sunlight as you can into your day.
Written by Rebekka Johnston