One thing that everyone seems to have in common when the sun’s out is a good mood. But what is it about the sunshine that makes us feel so happy?
It boosts our mood
Most of us will agree that it’s hard to feel unhappy in the sun. One study undertaken in Australia found that people had higher levels of serotonin on bright sunny days than cloudy ones. Increased levels of this hormone generally lead to greater feelings of satisfaction and calmness and lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Sun improves our sleep
Regular exposure to sunlight encourages the production of melatonin – the hormone which helps to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. This encourages feelings of drowsiness, allowing us to drift off easier at night, which leads to us feeling happier in the day. Melatonin also helps to regulate the body’s internal clock that signals when to be alert and when to rest – which can be thrown out of sync by exposure to blue light from technology, disrupted work patterns and light pollution.
Your bones will be given a boost
Vitamin D is also crucial for helping our body to absorb calcium, which is responsible for strengthening your bones. More than 90 per cent of a person’s vitamin D requirement tends to come from casual exposure to sunlight, making it the best source of the nutrient. So how much exposure do we need to boost our health? On average we should be aiming for 10–30 minutes of midday sunlight, several times per week.
Your eyes need sunlight
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, GP and author, explains that light is measured in a unit called lux: if we spend 20 minutes outside – even on a cloudy overcast day – we are exposed to around 10 000 lux, compared with 500 lux if we spend time indoors. This is particularly important for children. Researchers at King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that regular exposure to sunlight lowered the risk of nearsightedness in children and young adults by helping the eye produce dopamine, which aids in healthy eye development.
Exposure to natural light can also help to reduce adult eyestrain, which is on the rise during the pandemic due to more screen time and fewer natural breaks in the working day.
It can lower blood pressure
Research conducted by the University of Southampton in 2018 exposed participants with a normal range of blood pressure to ultraviolet light. They found that after exposure, the participants saw a modest decrease in their blood pressure levels, which could be down to the role of nitric oxide stored in the top layers of the skin. When it reacts to sunlight, it causes the blood vessels to widen – moving the oxide into the bloodstream. Long term, having lower blood pressure can reduce your risk of cardiac arrest or a stroke. So soak up the rays whenever you can!