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Health and Wellness

Benefits of Sunlight

Learn about the many ways sunshine can brighten your day.  
Written by the Theralogix team of Registered Dietitians
Sunlight plays a critical role in your body. A little bit of sunlight each day can help support healthy vitamin D levels, healthy sleep and even your mental health.

It would be a cold, dark Earth without the sun. Nearly every living being relies on the sun not only to survive, but also thrive. Including you. Sunlight helps support healthy vitamin D levels, healthy sleep patterns, and even mental health. Explore the many ways sunshine can brighten your day.  

Sunlight and Vitamin D 

The benefits of vitamin D could stretch across the solar system. Well, maybe not – but it’s an incredibly vital nutrient that plays several roles within your body. For example, vitamin D helps absorb calcium and promotes strong, healthy bones. It also helps support a healthy immune system and healthy muscle and heart function. There’s even a connection between vitamin D and fertility.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D ranges from 15-20 micrograms (600-800 IU) per day, depending on your age and gender. However, many experts agree that most people need significantly more vitamin D each day to support healthy vitamin D levels. Daily doses up to 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) are considered safe for most adults.  

You get most of the vitamins your body needs through food. The problem with vitamin D is that only a handful of foods contain significant amounts of this important nutrient. Fatty fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk and ready-to-eat cereal are great sources, but it can be difficult for some to meet their vitamin D needs through food alone.  

Luckily, your body can also make vitamin D with exposure to sunlight. When ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit your skin, it converts a form of cholesterol in your skin into vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D your body produces can vary based on your skin color, age, geographical location, time of day, and sunscreen use. With so many factors, it’s unclear exactly how much time you need to spend in the sun to meet your vitamin D needs, but most experts suggest about 5-30 minutes of mid-day sun at least twice per week to support healthy vitamin D production. However, in many parts of the United States, the amount of vitamin D made from sun exposure from November to February is quite small. 

Sunlight and Sleep 

According to the Sleep Foundation, light is the most important external factor affecting sleep. That’s because light helps regulate your circadian rhythm, also known as your internal clock. Cycles of light and dark (day and night) help your body figure out when to prepare for activity and when to prepare for rest.  

Research suggests that those who are exposed to more light in the morning fall asleep more quickly at night. So, embrace the early morning sun peeking through your window. It may be the key to a restful night’s sleep.  

Light also affects melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness that helps support healthy sleep. Too much exposure to light in the evening hours, especially from electronics, can reduce melatonin production and make it more difficult for you to drift off to sleep.  

Sunlight and Mental Health 

It’s much easier to have a great day when it’s sunny than when it’s cloudy and pouring rain. It’s like the sun’s golden rays are just dripping with happiness, joy, and warmth.  

So it’s no surprise that sunshine is linked to mental health. Similar to the way melatonin production is triggered by darkness, sunlight prompts your brain to make serotonin – a feel-good hormone. Healthy serotonin levels may help you feel happy, calm, focused, and emotionally stable.  

Reap the Benefits of Sunlight – But Stay Protected 

The sun is immensely powerful, offering a multitude of benefits for your health. But remember, a little goes a long way. So, harness the power of the sun, but make sure you take steps to avoid potential harm.  

Here’s how:  

  • Wear sunscreen – even if it’s cloudy. If you’re planning to spend much time outdoors, make sure you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a 15+ SPF rating. Sunscreen wears off over time, so be sure to reapply at least every two hours.  
  • Wear protective clothing. The more skin your clothing covers, the more protection your outfit offers. When possible, choose long-sleeve shirts and pants if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period of time. Some articles of clothing even provide an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating, which may offer additional sun protection. Add a hat and sunglasses to shade your face and eyes.  
  • Stay in the shade. On particularly sunny days, try to find refuge under an umbrella, tree, or shelter.  

Even though the sun is 91 million miles away, you can reap the benefits just by stepping outside your front door. A few golden rays a day may be your key to healthy vitamin D levels, sleep patterns, and mood. 

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