Step 4 Sunlight

Road winding around the mountain at sunset.

Sunlight and Mental Health

Most people feel more cheerful and optimistic when it’s a sunny day.  But for depression sufferers, sunshine is of even greater importance.  Exposure to sunlight does not only boost mood, but  improves our entire physiology.  When bare skin is directly exposed to sunlight, Vitamin D is produced.  This vitamin leads to greater immune function, lower incidence of heart disease and other diseases, boosts weight loss and improves bone density.  In a study conducted by the University Hospital of North Norway, scientists found that depressed patients showed significant improvement upon supplementation with high doses of Vitamin D.

Sunlight is important for the effective functioning of the hypothalamus, which regulates the circadian rhythms.  When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, levels of melatonin and serotonin are affected. Melatonin regulates our sleep and energy levels, while serotonin affects our mood and appetite.

Some depression sufferers only experience symptoms during the winter months.  This form of depression (Seasonal Effective Disorder or SAD) is directly linked to the lack of exposure to sunlight.  But everyone, and especially all depression sufferers will benefit from:

  • Exposing your skin to the sun for 30 minutes 3 times a week.
  • Getting your dose of sunshine before 10am and after 3pm
  • Opening your curtains and letting the sunshine in!
  • Exercising outside as much as possible
  • Investing in a light box if your outdoor hours are too limited during the winter months.
  • Adding a vitamin D supplement if levels remain low.