Sunlight & Mental Health

Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of different hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin can boost our mood and help a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep.

Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons. Decreased sun exposure has been associated with a drop in serotonin levels, which can lead to major depression with seasonal pattern. The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin. So, you’re more likely to experience this type of depression in the winter time, when the days are shorter.

Exposure to sunlight can also benefit those with:

  • other types of major depression
  • premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • pregnant people with depression
  • anxiety-related disorders and panic attacks have also been linked with changing seasons and reduced sunlight.

From treating skin and other physical conditions to improving mood, sunlight has many benefits. If you live in higher latitudes with little sunlight, buying a light box may provide some of its mood-boosting benefits.

Because excess sun exposure is linked with increased skin cancer risk, don’t stay outside too long without sunscreen. If you’re going to be outside for longer than 15 minutes or so, you’ll need a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and ideally higher e.g. SPF30 or 50.

Knowing all of that, get outside and boost your mood!

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