Keeping Sane: How Does the Sun Help?
The sun is a key factor in determining our moods, energy levels, and our outlook on life. After extended stretches
of cloudy weather, people may get irritable, stressed, or even experience depression. The same is true for those who spend
most of the day inside or who are active much of the night while sleeping during sunlight hours.
This research confirms what
I notice in myself on a daily basis. My mood lifts almost instantly when I see a sunbeam or take a walk in the sunshine.
And you don't want to know me after a week of rainy weather! Here are some interesting observations and research on
the sun and what it can do for our mental health.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is one of the more famous examples of the sun's role in
a positive mental outlook. It was recognized by the American Medical Association in 1984 when they said "The high rate
of depression people experience in winter has been linked...to inadequate light stimulation."
This condition effects people of all ages (myself included!) who find it almost impossible
to function in the winter months with minimal hours of sunlight. Even the hours that we do have bring light from a sun that is
much further relative to the Earth than during the summer. This lack can lead to withdrawal, most often observed as
fatigue,depression, and even physical illness. Many people feel the need to sleep all the time and are less than productive at
work or school. Their interpersonal relationships suffer from the lack of sun in their lives; they may become irritable and
unable to empathize with others.
People with mild cases of SAD use an artificial sun lamp to simulate sunlight.
This has been shown to be relatively effective because it stimulates the same brain chemicals as the sun.
Luckily, the symptoms of SAD disappear with the advent of spring and summer.
- The sun also impacts our productivity at work and school. Workers in offices with constant sunlight and large windows
have been shown to be both more efficient with their time and more accurate in completing their tasks. They also
have 25% to 60% less sick time then their coworkers in darker parts of the building. Workers who say they regularly
go outside in the sunshine are more motivated in their careers and more likely to suggest new approaches to a problem.
The same seems to be true for children in school. Those who spend a portion of their day exposed to sunlight have
better test scores. While children may seem more distracted on a sunny, beautiful spring day, they tend to be lethargic and
less motivated during the long winter months with little sun. Schools with more daylight saw their students outperform
counterparts in darker schools by 5% to 15%.
- Travelers may find sunlight a blessing in overcoming feelings of confinement
and drowsiness after long flights. Moderate amounts of sunlight have been shown to help people
recover from jet lag and adjust to their new surroundings easily.
Unfortunately, we don't always get outside to enjoy the sun as much as we could. Daniel F. Kripke,
a researcher with the University of California San Diego, surveyed adults in San Diego, who wore wrist
meters to register the amount of sunlight they received during the day. The study found that the majority
was only exposed to sunlight for less than one hour per day and some did not go outdoors at all during a
48-hour period. But we should still try, because every little sunbeam helps your mood!
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SMILE AND BE HAPPY!