Mental Health

Does Sunlight Impact Mental Health?

Is natural light an important factor when it comes to mental health? Studies would say yes — to a certain degree.

Let us start with the workplace since this is where the average person would spend most of their day at. One study from 2014 examined the overall health of two groups of office workers: Those who had windows in their office and those who worked at offices without windows.

The former was found to have healthier sleep habits and better well-being overall when compared to their windowless counterparts. Being exposed to more light during daytime and less light during nighttime helps calibrate our internal clock and fall into the natural circadian rhythm.

"There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day — particularly in the morning — is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness, and metabolism,” said Phyllis Zee, M.D., a Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist who worked on the study.

"Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day. The study results confirm that light during the natural daylight hours has powerful effects on health."

But is there an exclusive benefit in sunlight which indoor lighting cannot provide? One difference that immediately springs to mind is the presence of vitamin D, the nutrient which can provide a boost to our immune system

Many people also report a better mood or a sense of calmness washing over them when spending time outdoors, under the sun specifically. On the other hand, research has documented how mood and anxiety disorders are prone to worsening during winter, a time when the sun goes into hiding.

While we do not have a clear explanation for these seasonal patterns just yet, it has been suggested that sunlight may help us produce more serotonin i.e. the feel-good hormone. Thus, the notable dip during winter may contribute to what we call seasonal affective depression or SAD.

Sunlight is also said to alter the levels of nitric oxide in our skin and blood, which could help in lowering blood pressure levels. This not only promotes better heart health but can also be linked to reduced stress.

However, non-seasonal depression, unlike SAD, takes longer to show signs of improvement even after patients increase their exposure to light. So, for now, researchers believe that the healing, mood-enhancing capabilities of the sun are limited but can definitely help in the right circumstances.

Since there are no side effects, getting a bit more sun could work as an inexpensive and easy way of taking care of your mental health. So, if you still have room for more new year resolutions, make sure to open your windows during the day and take a walk outside more often.