They say the best things in life are free, and morning sunlight is no exception. Our bodies thrive when well-nourished, and similar to when we eat healthily and feel great, sunlight can work comparable wonders.
We're biologically wired to sync up with the sun. Our bodies produce melatonin when the sun goes down to help us sleep and then reduces the chemical when the sun comes up.
Many of us dismiss getting outside as a luxury, putting it off to work longer hours or recharge in front of the TV. However, research suggests that sunlight could help you recharge more effectively, work more efficiently, and feel better as a result.
Why Morning Sunlight is So Beneficial
Morning sunshine isn't just lovely to look at; the sun's rays provide biological benefits which are essential to your functionality, many of which may hold the key to making your life healthier, easier, and more enjoyable.
For example, sunlight’s vitamin D is a critical component to fighting fatigue, boosting mental health, and could even help rejuvenate aging eyes and maintain a healthy weight. Sunlight is even known to enhance sleep patterns, and ease mild depression.
The Health Benefits of Sunlight
Sunshine and vitamin D are often used interchangeably for a reason; our bodies rely on the sun to provide us with precious vitamin D. The importance of Vitamin D has been compared to oxygen— it's vital for life.
Osteopathic and naturopathic doctors have recently criticized the traditionally recommended dosage of vitamin D. Experts state that, “today's vitamin D recommendations may be enough to help prevent rickets, but it does nothing to give protection from cancer, heart disease, and infections. Most adults need about 8,000 units of vitamin D, while others may need more than that required amount to optimize their vitamin D levels.”
So, how much sun exposure is required to get the newly recommended dose of 8,000 IU? This varies by person but ranges between five and thirty minutes.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Muscle or bone pain
- Mood issues, including depression
If you struggle with any of these, you could benefit from more sunlight exposure, particularly in the early morning hours.
Heals Skin Conditions
While the sun can cause damage in some cases, it can also help heal certain conditions.
Psoriasis produces flakey, scaly skin, and PUVA therapy is a popular and often successful treatment. PUVA therapy works through a drug that the patient takes to increase the sensitivity of the skin to sunlight, exposing it to more UVA radiation.
Vitiligo produces patchy loss of skin pigmentation and is thought to be an autoimmune disease. However, it can be treated by PUVA therapy, similarly to Psoriasis treatment.
Research has estimated that as much as 40% of the American population is deficient in vitamin D, and almost 1 billion individuals worldwide don't get enough of the nutrient. Your immune system relies on Vitamin D and sunlight to perform critical functions, so a deficiency could lead to more issues than you may presume.
Vitamin D supports your T cells, which serve as the front line of defense against illness. Further, vitamin D helps you absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are essential ingredients in preventing bone-weakening conditions like rickets and osteoporosis. So the next time you're feeling run down, try a morning walk around the block or lunchtime stroll.
The sun's D vitamin is necessary to help the body absorb calcium which, as you may know, helps maintain strong bones. Vitamin D deficiencies in children have been shown to cause rickets, which is a disease characterized by bow legs and bone deformities.
As we age, we gradually lose bone density. The process begins around the age of 35, which might be rather unfortunate news for a few of us. Luckily, you can reduce your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures just by enjoying your morning coffee outside.
Rejuvenates Aging Eyes
Vitamin D3 fosters eye health and could keep your sight sharp long into old age. Research suggests that vitamin D3 may help low down macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of blindness in senior citizens. Further, the vitamin has also been shown to reduce inflammation and improve overall function.
However, avoid looking directly into the sun with your eyes open. You can keep them closed as you look up— the sun is bright enough that you'll absorb its benefits through your lids.
Supports Healthy Weight and Metabolism
While studying disorders like obesity and diabetes, a team of researchers accidentally discovered that scWAT (subcutaneous white adipose tissue) cells tend to shrink when exposed to the sun's blue light. In other words, in response to blue light, our cells store less fat.
Additionally, sun exposure helps speed up metabolism because our bodies release nitric oxide, a metabolic regulator. However, don't go overboard; too much sun can still be damaging.
Sunlight and darkness are powerful biological indicators; seeing the sun regularly each day helps keep your internal clock synced. We naturally feel more awake and energetic during daylight hours, and when it's dark out, our internal clock tells us it's time for bed. By seeing daylight in the morning, your body slows down melatonin production (the sleep-inducing hormone) to wake you up and increases output at night when the sun goes down.
Our bodies work on 24-hour circadian rhythms, which affect our sleep-wake cycle and other functions, including hormone regulation and appetite. Seeing the morning sunshine at the same time each day helps regulate our clock, and when it's time for bed, we'll be more ready to fall asleep and stay at rest.
Prevents Chronic Disease
Studies show that conditions like autoimmune disease, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, arthritis, and even cancer are connected to insufficient sunlight and vitamin D levels.
According to a longitudinal 10-year research study on relatively healthy men, those who were deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack as men who had healthy levels of vitamin D. Additionally, elderly individuals who don't get enough of the supplement are more likely to fall, increasing the likelihood of fractures.
Sunlight and Mental Health
Eases Mild Depression
You've probably heard of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which often happens to people in cold climates during the winter months when sun exposure is at a minimum. However, a few minutes of sunshine in the morning, or even a lightbox, could alleviate this condition.
Sun exposure boosts serotonin levels, which is the brain's happy hormone. While this isn't a substitute for treatment from a psychologist or psychiatrist, don't be surprised if you find that you start feeling better after regular doses of morning sunshine.
Melatonin and Circadian Rhythm
Your body appreciates being in a predictable routine, and when you disrupt your circadian rhythm, you can throw your body out of whack. If you've ever traveled to a new time zone, you may be familiar with jet lag— we need sleep to feel our best.
When we deprive ourselves of sunlight, we're depleting our consumption of melanin, which makes melatonin, the chemical that helps us sleep. Without sunlight to provide these things, our bodies can be left feeling depleted, anxious, and depressed.
Guidelines for Soaking Up the Benefits of Sun Exposure
Staying mindful of your sun exposure is wise, so you don't burn. While the timing could depend on where you are in the world and how direct the rays are, we recommend limiting exposure to under 30 minutes at a time if you're not wearing sunscreen.
Time of Day
Morning sunshine between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. is ideal. The hours after 10 a.m. and up until about 4 p.m. are known to have stronger, more direct rays. Being outdoors unprotected during this period increases your risk for sunburn and skin cancers.
If you do need to be outdoors during peak hours, we recommend slathering sunscreen on exposed areas. No matter your skin color, tone, or how strong your “base tan” is, sunscreen is critical when you're exposed to the sun for prolonged periods. Experts recommend an SPF of at least 30 to keep you protected.
What are the benefits of morning sunlight during pregnancy?
When you're pregnant, not only are you eating for two, you're getting sunlight for two people as well.
Sun exposure and Vitamin D are critical for a baby's growth and development in the womb. Mothers should get plenty of sunshine both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The benefits include:
- Bone growth and development
- Healthy bone density
- Prevention of osteoporosis later in life
- Prevention of type 1 diabetes
- Reduced risk of developing RA (rheumatoid arthritis) and other autoimmune conditions.
What is the difference between morning sun and evening sun?
The types of light given off by the sun's rays vary throughout the day. According to one credible opinion, the combination of UV and infrared light is at an ideal balance between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. During this time, the sun has the most concentrated healing properties and causes our body to release more endorphins.
He theorizes that this is Mother Nature's way of encouraging humans to get out and bask in the rays during this brief window.
We're fond of sunsets as well, so we wanted to make sure there was nothing sinister about being outside at this time of day. Indeed, evening rays won't hurt you, but it doesn't have the same healing effects as the hours directly following a sunrise.
Sources and References:
-  “Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms & Treatment”, Cleveland Clinic
-  “Radiation: The Known Health Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation”, World Health Organization
-  Opinder Sahota, “Understanding Vitamin D Deficiency”, Age and Ageing, Oxford University Press, September, 2014.
-  “Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D”, Michigan Medicine
-  “Vitamin D May Play Key Role in Preventing Macular Degeneration.”, University at Buffalo, August 27, 2015.
-  Katarina Ondrusova, et al., “Subcutaneous White Adipocytes Express a Light Sensitive Signaling Pathway Mediated via a Melanopsin/TRPC Channel Axis”, Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, November 27, 2017.
-  “Ask the Expert: Vitamin D and Chronic Disease”, The Nutrition Source, November 20, 2017.