Let The Sun Shine In! | How Sunlight Affects Moods
Updated: Apr 9
With the social distancing orders from the White House expired, more than half the country is now reopening. For many, being on lockdown for six weeks or more has been emotionally and physically draining. The opportunity to get life back to some form of normalcy can be exciting, worrisome, freeing, nerve-racking, or all of the above.
Living in southern Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County), our "Stay at Home" orders are still in place. When these orders first started, many people embraced the idea of being home because it gave them time to organize areas of the house that have not been looked at in years. By the end of March, social media posts, news alerts, and conversations about sadness, depression, moodiness, mindless eating and sleepless nights became prevalent. I was not sleeping well and feeling, "blah." The question was, why? Was there a reason for this? Was there something that people could do to change this? Then I started digging.
Staying at home for the weekend in sweats, under a blanket, binge-watching TV, or devouring a book is one thing. But what happens when you stay inside ALL DAY LONG for WEEKS ON END? Although I knew that that limiting time outside dramatically impacts the amount of sunshine people are exposed to, I discovered that it also affects people’s circadian rhythm.
Dr. Nesochie Okeke-Igboke, a NYC based physician and health expert, says that when you go outside, your body takes that sunshine and synthesizes it into vitamin D, which in turn helps with the regulation of one's circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are found in almost all living things and follow a daily cycle. They run in the background 24 hours a day and encompass physical, mental, and behavioral changes. Circadian rhythms respond mostly to light and darkness in our environment. When we stay inside, we are not exposed to enough light. Exposure to light is essential as it sends signals to our brain that keeps us awake and alert. Also, going outside to get some sunlight gives us some vitamin D, which helps boost our immune system. Having a robust immune system is important, especially with what we are currently facing, to fight off infection and disease.
So, what if you are eating too much and not making good choices in what you are eating. Well, your circadian rhythm might be to blame. When it is off-balance, and you are not sleeping as much or as well as you usually do, your ghrelin hormone level rises. This hormone stimulates your appetite, and due to lack of sleep, your leptin hormone, which signals you had enough to eat and controls your energy, drops.
Have you been feeling down, depressed, unmotivated, and just plain old blah? Well, an unbalanced circadian rhythm can be a reason for that too. Studies have shown that almost all people who suffer from mood disorders have disruptions in their sleep/wake schedule and their circadian rhythms. Before COVID-19, you may have experienced changes in your mood with slight alterations in your social calendar, when you traveled over time zones or when daylight hours were less which also affects your circadian rhythm. These changes in your mood are due are to environmental disruptions, which we all have experienced in the last six weeks or so. Additionally, you may have lower levels of serotonin, which is a mood-boosting chemical. Sunlight increases your serotonin levels, and higher levels of this chemical in your brain is associated with a better mood and lower levels of depression and anxiety.
I want to close this blog with a few thoughts about my very unscientific study that I did. I won’t tell you how long it took me to write this blog, but when I started it, I was not in a good place. After I did some research on why I was feeling this way, I made a concerted effort to spend at least an hour each day outside. After about a week of spending more time outside every day and less time watching and reading the news, I noticed some considerable changes in my mood and my sleep habits. So, if you are currently still under "Stay at Home" orders, or if you are placed under them in the future, try spending more time outside. It can help you emotionally, give you a better night's sleep, and an overall feeling of happiness. Let the sun SHINE on you, whether you sit out in your yard or take a long walk, make sure it is something you do each day (weather permitting). When you start your day, open your curtains and let in natural light. Dim the lights in your home when the day comes to a close. Take a break from electronics and TV before you go to bed and make your room as dark as possible. The next morning, after your breakfast and morning coffee, go outside again and get fresh air, sit in the sun…just don't forget the sunscreen!
Stay safe and HEALTHY!
Steri-Clean of Southern Florida