Posted on by Beckworth & Co

While there's plenty of sunlight to go around the rest of the year, the lack of it in the winter months isn't so great. The irony is that in winter when people need vitamin D the most, most of us are not getting enough. 

Sunlight is often perceived as a threat to your health because it can cause wrinkles, premature aging, and most importantly, skin cancer. This might make you think that avoiding the sun would be more ideal. But the dark skies and short days of winter can actually be detrimental and research suggests that exposure to sunlight may actually be beneficial in small doses. So what are the benefits of sun exposure and why is it important to get some sunlight during winter?

Of all the health benefits of sunlight, initiating the process of producing vitamin D in the body may be the best known. A common misconception is that sunlight actually contains vitamin D. In fact, UV rays in sunlight stimulate the skin to produce the substance.

Vitamin D is critical for your immune system, and with consistent exposure to sunlight, you can help strengthen it. A healthy immune system can help reduce the risk of illness, infections, and mortality after surgery. Vitamin D is also thought to play a key role in preventing a number of cancers, including pancreatic, lung, breast, ovarian, skin, prostate, and colon.

Sunlight provides us with 90% of our vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for key biological processes to take place in the body. Though anybody can get vitamin D from their diet and supplements, sunlight is still an important source of this essential nutrient.

Spending time under the sun may be more important than you think. 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 which is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. Decreased sun exposure has been associated with the drop in serotonin levels, which can lead to Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD). This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons and is more likely to occur during the fall and winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight.

In addition to boosting your mood, sunlight is also responsible for improving your energy levels. When your eyes detect light, it tells your brain to wake up and release the cortisol you need to increase your metabolism and get through your day. This is probably why people have more trouble staying awake during winter. During the sunnier times of the year, we have more energy because our brains are being stimulated more. In other words, getting sunlight and spending time outdoors may help you feel more lively and energetic.

Sunlight plays a pivotal role in regulating our internal clock. This clock, otherwise known as circadian rhythm, dictates our behavior based on time of day. Sunshine regulates your circadian rhythm by telling your body when to increase and decrease your melatonin levels.

Your body creates a hormone called melatonin that is critical to helping you sleep. Because your body starts producing it when it’s dark, you usually start to feel sleepy two hours after the sun sets, which is one of the reasons our bodies naturally stay up later in the summer. Even if you aren't trying to adjust to a new time zone, this is important because exposure to sunlight tells your body that it's daytime, which signals your brain to stop producing melatonin. That cue sets your internal clock for the rest of the day and sets your brain up to start producing melatonin again when you want to go to sleep at night.

Regular exposure to sunlight trains your brain to sleep when it becomes dark, and as a result, it can help you get a better night's sleep. Going out for 15 minutes daily in the morning helps to regulate the body's melatonin production. So, when it gets dark outside this will help your body clock recognize that it is the time to produce it again.

According to a study by Dr. Richard Weller from the University of Edinburgh, exposure to UV rays could help if you suffer from high blood pressure. After being exposed to rays for two 20-minute sessions the results showed that blood pressure levels dropped significantly for one hour. 

Sunlight is known to lower blood pressure, but now they've figured out why. This new study finds that nitric oxide stored in the top layers of the skin reacts to sunlight and causes blood vessels to widen as the oxide moves into the bloodstream. That, in turn, lowers blood pressure.



In one widely cited 1992 study, Swedish researchers found that students without daylight produced less of a hormone that helps the body deal with stress and infection. Working in classrooms without daylight may upset the basic hormone pattern, and in turn, may influence the children’s ability to concentrate or cooperate.

As it turns out this has also been recently established among workers in windowless offices. A windowless basement office lit with harsh fluorescent lighting has detrimental effects on health and productivity. A recent study on the effects of our work environments confirms that such conditions lead to depression and anxiety. And since better moods and lower anxiety translate to more productive work, people exposed to direct and indirect sunlight reported higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

As we mentioned earlier, sunlight regulates your circadian rhythm by telling your body when to increase and decrease your melatonin levels. And though Melatonin mainly helps with inducing sleep, it also lowers stress reactivity. Being outside will help your body naturally regulate melatonin, which can help reduce your stress level. Additionally, because you're often doing something active when you’re outside, that extra exercise also helps to lower stress.

Vitamin D made thanks to the sun plays a big role in bone health. We need it to help the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet which is important for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect your bones. While calcium helps build and maintain bones, vitamin D helps your body effectively absorb calcium. So even if you’re taking in enough calcium, it could be going to waste if you’re deficient in vitamin D.

The lack of vitamin D, known as vitamin D deficiency, can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities. In children, for example, a lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets. In adults, it can lead to osteomalacia, which causes bone pain and tenderness.

A little sunshine can go a long way. Depending on the shade of your skin, scientists estimate your body can produce vitamin D in about 5 to 30 minutes in the sun. It's not known exactly how much time is needed under the sun. This is because there are a number of factors that can affect how vitamin D is made, such as your skin color or how much skin you have exposed. Wearing sunscreen or clothing over your skin may not produce as much vitamin D. Also, people with dark skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin.

While there are a lot of good reasons to get sun, it’s important to balance catching rays with protecting yourself from sunburn and skin cancer. The longer you stay in the sun, especially for prolonged periods without sun protection, the greater the risk

The best way to get fresh sunlight is to get up and out early to enjoy the added hours of morning sunlight. These are also the hours in which the risk of sunburn is lowest. During your workday, spend coffee breaks or lunch breaks outdoors to increase your exposure each day.

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