Sunshine: Friend or Foe?
By Krista Elliott
"I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day ..."
Hearing the silky-smooth voices of The Temptations crooning this song, you can't help but feel your spirits lift. It's not only their beautiful voices that cheer us, but the very thought of a warm ray of sunshine breaking through the dull gray clouds. There's just something about sunshine that puts us in a good mood. But why does sunshine make us happy, and are we compromising our health in our pursuit of the sun's warm rays?
What Can Make Me Feel This Way?
Unless you're a vampire, sunshine is pretty much a guaranteed mood-booster. Why, though? Well, it has to do with your serotonin and your melatonin, and how sunlight affects them. Serotonin is the "feel-good" chemical in your brain, while melatonin regulates your sleep. Like all diurnal (as opposed to nocturnal) creatures, human beings are basically meant to be up and moving with the sun, and sleeping at night. So, when we see sunlight, the optic nerve in our brain tells our body to make less melatonin and more serotonin in order to get us up and going. The result? You're more alert and cheerful.
Another serotonin booster? Vitamin D. Yes, the Vitamin D that your body creates from exposure to the sun. As it turns out, regular exposure to the sun during the summer months can help your body maintain higher serotonin levels during winter, helping to stave off "seasonal affective disorder" (the appropriately abbreviated SAD) or even just the winter blahs.
I've Got all the Sunblock, Baby, One Man Can Claim
Ah, but here's the kicker. We know that sunlight is great for our mood. But we also know that too much of it is a major threat to our skin and our overall health.
So do we shun the sun and try to get our light boost artificially? Or do we go back to the days of lying out, slathered in baby oil, and looking like Keith Richards' neck wattle at the age of 42?
Fortunately it's neither.
As with oh so many things in life, moderation is the key. The consensus is universal that we should be vigilant about sunblock, particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is at its peak. However, many scientists believe that going out unprotected in the sun for small periods, a few times a week, carries more benefit than risk. Taking your morning coffee out on the deck or patio, or stepping outside during your work break for five minutes to get some fresh air and sunlight are great ways to get a bit of sunlight into your skin and brain without risking overexposure. Throw in some stretches or a quick walk and you'll have a mood booster that will set you up for the entire day.
With sensible sun protection mixed in with some carefully selected periods of mood-lifting sun exposure, you'll soon be singing a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.