In November, the days get darker and colder. We don’t get nearly enough sunlight and that has a big impact on our health and can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Why do we need sunlight?
Sun gets a bad rep due to the risks of developing skin cancer. And while too much sun exposure is not good, we do need some sunlight for our health and wellbeing. That’s mainly because of vitamin D, serotonin & melatonin.
The sun’s UV rays help your body make Vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy bones and your immune system.
Sunlight also boosts serotonin (also known as the happiness hormone) which can improve your mood, give you more energy and help keep you calm and focused.
Melatonin controls your sleep–wake cycle. And sunlight tells your body when to increase and decrease your melatonin levels. So being in sunlight during the day (especially in the morning) will help your body produce melatonin at night. Melatonin not only helps you sleep better, it also helps you deal with stress.
So how much sun exposure is safe? In general, scientists recommend getting 5 to 30 minutes (depending on your skin tone) of sun exposure every day. As most sunscreens start to work 20 minutes after application, going outside immediately after applying will ensure you get a good amount of exposure without overdoing it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition where people regularly feel depressed in autumn and winter and feel better the following spring or summer. People with SAD can also experience increased appetite and sleeping too much. SAD is a relatively common condition, affecting 1-5% of adults in temperate climates, and it is more prevalent in women.
Scientists believe that SAD is caused by a disturbed sleep-wake cycle (melatonin) and a lack of serotonin.
What can we do about it?
There are definitely ways to beat the winter blues for a Healthy Happy You. Here are a few:
Get outside. Try to spend an hour in daylight every day (life hack: get a dog). This will stimulate melatonin production in the evening and help you get enough sleep.
Exercise. Bonus points if you do it outdoors in the morning. This will help increase your serotonin levels.
Eat foods high in Vitamin D (fatty fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks, cheese) or take a supplement if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
Use a daylight lamp (also called light therapy lamp). Invest in a good one (must have full spectrum bulbs) and sit in front of it for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning. This has been an absolute game changer for me! I use it when I’m on my cross trainer or at my desk.
Make an extra effort to look after your mental wellbeing. Schedule time to do things that make you happy and make rest a priority. And don't be afraid to ask for help if you think you need it.