Woodland walks, spur-of-the-moment barbecues and baring pasty white Winter legs after months of hibernation are just some of the highlights the UK looks forward to come Spring and Summer. Warm, sunny weather isn’t England’s most stereotypical climate, which means a blue-sky day is widely celebrated and treated almost like a holiday.
With longer daylight hours during this stretch of the year, reaping the benefits of natural sunlight is something we can all benefit from, and the sunlight supplement turns out to be way more powerful than many of us may first think. This goes far beyond vitamin D levels – utilising the sun’s rays impacts upon the nervous system, mood levels, energy, the ability to absorb, digest and assimilate food effectively, and really changes things inside all of us on a cellular level.
Getting outside between 8-11am is absolutely vital in order to get the most from sunlight. Morning sunlight contains the lightwaves Ultraviolet-B (UVB), Ultraviolet-A (UV-A) and Infrared-A (IR-A), which help the body produce vitamin D, and are more effectively absorbed and used by the body than any food substance. Sure, we can supplement with vitamin D, but it isn’t nearly as effective as good old sunshine. Even sunshine in the Winter months benefits us in this way, meaning vitamin D levels can be maintained throughout the year if we prioritise morning walks or simply standing in the garden each morning.
Waking early enough to benefit from the morning sun as cultures have done for thousands of years virtually flicks a switch on the body clock, telling it a new day has started, and encourages digestion, cognitive function, muscle function and circulation to fire up. Without this morning burst of sunlight, the body just isn’t as aware that a new day has started, which means the food we eat for breakfast can’t be turned into energy as effectively, and the first few hours of work time may not be as effective.
Perhaps most interestingly from a mental health and mindfulness point of view, this morning sunlight has a profound and shocking impact upon mood, circadian rhythms and hormone levels. In a tiny region of the brain’s hypothalamus (the part responsible for linking the nervous system to the hormonal system, and maintaining homeostasis aspects like hunger, thirst, body temperature etc) is a sensor called the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus). The SCN is thought of as a circadian pacemaker, controlling sleep-wake cycles, whilst also coordinating these cycles with other circadian rhythms in other brain areas and other areas of the body. Yes, there are circadian rhythms throughout the whole of the body – a little like small body clocks in all of our cells and tissues.
Our muscles, heart, lungs, eyes, digestive system, hormonal secretions etc all have a rhythm of their own, which are each effected by all the other rhythms, and are also dependent upon all the other rhythms. Without morning sunlight switching on the body clock (to put it in very simplified terms) we’re more likely to suffer from low mood levels, eat more than we need and make poor food choices, an inability to think straight and problem solve, and impaired social skills.
We’re designed to work in harmony with both nature and our own bodies. When sunlight hits the eye’s retina, it communicates a signal to the SCN that a new day has
started. This in turn sets the body’s rhythms for a new day.
Finally, and something I’m thoroughly immersed in researching right now, is how morning sunlight deeply impacts upon mood and wellbeing levels. When these specific lightwaves from the sun enter the eye and are communicated to various parts of the brain, serotonin is released. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found primarily in the nervous system, gut and blood platelets, and it’s one of the most powerful things for regulating mood levels. A large part of the reason why so may people are prescribed antidepressant pharmaceuticals is because of a lack of serotonin. Interestingly, this lack of serotonin seems to be found in many more people today than it ever has before, correlating with the fact that chronic disease seems to be more prevalent now than ever before, and correlating with the rise in artificial lighting, disconnect from nature, more screen time, time spent stressing about work, social media, and shutting ourselves off from the outside world.
Back To Nature
This morning light exposure may appear a clumsy and all too simple way to enhance health and wellbeing, but if humans have survived and thrived by living in a natural environment and waking up to sunlight for thousands of years, it must be doing something pretty impressive. If civilisations have been worshipping the sun and treating it as a god-like entity for centuries, maybe they knew how important it was too, without needing to google ‘benefits of sunlight’…….. If sunlight can help grow plants, crops and the food we all eat, surely it must be doing something to us when we’re immersed in it. If the technological advances we’ve created and come to rely upon are beginning to cause more harm than help, maybe it’s time to balance things out, to get back to nature, to simplify morning routines or even practice digital detox days.
Could sunlight have a potentially powerful effect on our digestion, mood levels, energy levels and cellular renewal? Could simply getting back to our natural rhythms be the very medicine and lifestyle remedy we’ve all be searching for? We’ll only know if we give it a go.
For more information on sunlight exposure and how this effects mitochondria (basically the engines within all of our cells that help us do life) read or listen to Neurosurgeon and Optimal Health Educator Dr. jack Kruse or head to www.jackkruse.com