Seasonal light and winter

Yes, living in Ohio in the winter months means getting up in the dark, and often driving into my driveway at home returning from work in the dark.  The daylight is shorter, and the sun is often masked in one of a thousand shades of drab gray.  But if you are like me, on that day when the sun is out, and almost blinding  I want to just walk the dog, and soak in the rays.

There has never been a doctor’s diagnosis of SAD, or Seasonal Light Affect Disorder, but i do notice the difference in my energy, overall health and emotions on those dark gray winter days.  I have always been curious about the impact sunlight has on our thinking and our body.  In a book I read recently Shawn Stevenson (Sleep Smarter) wrote about sunlight, and particularly the sunlight that we receive in the early morning between 6am -8:30am as the most critical time for our health.  Unclear why, but our body clock is most responsive to the sunlight in these early morning hours.  As the seasons vary the time that sunlight is first available to our day, our body clocks adjust, but not without some impact.  He suggests getting direct sunlight outdoors for at least a half hour to see the benefit.  During the winter its not as easy or possible to get the sunlight directly on our skin.  But one of the greatest benefits is taking in the sunlight with our eyes.  Even a cloudy day offers good sunlight when we are outdoors.

So we have heard all of the hideous warnings about sunlight.  What are the benefits of sunlight exposure to us?  Well here is a short list:

  • Vitamin D – Exposure to sunlight triggers the production of Vitamin D as our skin response to UV radiation.   Vitamin D is required for our bodies to absorb calcium and promote bone growth / bone health.   Vitamin D also fights a number of diseases , has been shown to reduce depression by acting as a mood regulator.  Recent medical studies have found promising hope that daily intake of Vitamin D has improved weight loss in their case study patients.  In addition to sunlight, vitamin d can be found in salmon, sardines, milk, yogurt, most cereals and orange juice.
  • Bacteria killer – Discovered prior to WWI by Nobel Prize winner Niels Finsen, sunlight acts as a disinfectant, and has proven to assist with wound healing for patients exposed to sunlight for periods of time.  This theory was first tested out in WWI by the German army, and found to be very accurate.
  • Beneficial effect on skin disorders: Natural sunlight is a prescriptive treatment for disorders like psoriasis and eczema.  When  natural sunlight is not possible doctors have been known to prescribe light treatments with specialized sunlight simulation lamps.   On a personal note I have found this to work well for controlling my persistent eczema outbreaks.
  • Oxygen increase – Sunlight has been proven to improve the body’s capacity for oxygen delivery to tissue, improving fitness and muscle development.
  • Immune System improvement – White blood cells (they increase with sun exposure) are called lymphocytes, and they work in the body to defend against infection.  This is believed to explain the seasonal pattern of cold and flu during winter months when there is less sunlight available.

Now i am not a medical person, i just like to read and educate myself.  And these are all facts found in the medical journals.  It seems odd that they are often overshadowed by the story of sunlight exposure leading to cancer.  So what am i saying here?  This is some practical and good information that should be balanced with care.  Like all things, a little bit is great, but overdoing can have adverse impact.  As for me, with this winter gray, i am longing for the days of sunshine and warmth where i can go take the dog for a walk, or sit at lunch outside and just soak it in.

If winter light deprevation bothers you experts suggest that you eat more oranges, and where possible try to get out in the daytime.  An overcast day offers 400% more sunlight than indoor lighting!  Know you are not alone on feeling the lower light levels.  But like all things, the seasons will change.