Will Time In The Sun Really Improve Your Mood?

Northwestern Medicine
Psychiatry and Psychology July 06, 2017
There’s no denying it, summer is here. You find yourself waking up easier in the morning thanks to the sun peeking through your windows, the warmth of its rays making you wish you had more time to sit with your coffee and take it all in. What is it about summertime that makes us feel so much happier?

 Spending at least 30 minutes outside in warm, sunny weather can in fact improve your mood.

According to the American Family Physician Organization, 4-6 percent of people struggle with winter depression, the most common form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), while another 10-20 percent have a mild form of SAD. Either way, the sun helps alleviate the down in the dumps feeling that winter can bring by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.

 “When there is a decrease in sunlight, incidents of SAD increase,” said Mehmet Dokucu, MD, psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “SAD is linked closely with our circadian rhythm. Bright light tells our minds it is time to be awake, while darkness tells us it is time to rest.”

Thanks to our circadian rhythm, a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of our brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals, the longer the sun is up, the more energetic we feel. When we have energy, we feel more productive and therefore more content with ourselves.

Sunshine also helps us physically. The ultraviolet rays from the sun help our bodies create vitamin D, an essential vitamin which helps to absorb calcium and promote healthy bone growth. It is not found in most foods, so in order to build up an adequate supply our body must create it on its own.

“Recently, experts have been increasing the recommended amount of vitamin D,” said Dr. Dokucu. “What is considered ‘normal’ is being bumped up.”

 Being indoors when the weather is pleasant can create a negative mindset, making normal tasks feel more irritating or boring than they usually would. To help get more vitamin D, set aside a time in the day where you can enjoy the outdoors. Easy ways to soak up the sun are walking to work or taking your lunch break outside.

If you find yourself unable to make time, Dr. Dokucu recommends light therapy. “There are affordable bright light lamps. Use them in the morning to work with your circadian rhythm and train your mind to wake up with the light.”

Experts recommend talking to your health care provider before purchasing a bright light lamp and making sure to pick a therapeutic lamp that is right for you.

This summer, dedicate some time to go outside and appreciate the sunny days. They’re not here for long, and you’ll feel better if you do.

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