With longer and warmer days, we often experience a renewed sense of energy and hope while we start making plans into the summer that involve more social activities. As spring softens into summer, it’s not uncommon to experience an improvement in our overall moods. This is because the outdoors are now not only providing more hospitable temperatures but also a few extra hours of sunlight. When sunlight is filtered through our retinas it triggers certain receptors in our brains to produce more serotonin, which improves our overall mood. Nighttime and darkness also have the same effect, only opposite. Darkness triggers receptors to produce more melatonin. These lower levels of serotonin and higher levels of melatonin in the winter months may account for some of the seasonal lethargy we often feel. You may have even heard of this condition by the name of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Serotonin is a hormone found naturally in your body and its main role is to regulate your emotions and keep them within an equilibrium. Normal levels of serotonin help you stay alert, focused, stable, and calm, while also influencing your sleeping, eating, and digestion. Low levels of serotonin often lead to depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. Serotonin is mostly found in your intestines and is produced through chemical reactions in your body involving amino acids from your diet. This is just another reason why a good diet full of whole foods is so important.
According to the World Health Organization, getting around 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin 2-3 times a week is often enough to experience many of its health-giving benefits. Other than serotonin, sunlight is also beneficial for bone health, due to its vitamin D-producing capabilities, as well as certain types of cancer treatments, skin conditions, and other health conditions that often have an emotional component (ex: IBS and fibromyalgia). Most of us have heard by now about how getting too much sun can be harmful and researchers don’t always have an exact measurement for the optimal levels of sun exposure. That’s why it’s best to know your own body and its limits. A good rule of thumb is to protect your skin with either sunscreen or protective clothing if your sun exposure is longer than 15 minutes at a time.
If you need an extra way to get your sun exposure in, you can always join us every Friday 9 am-noon for our volunteer hours!