Let The Sunshine In

Sun shining over a grassy field

Baby boomers will undoubtedly recognize this blog title as part of a song medley released in 1969 by the vocal group, The 5th Dimension. The lyrics spoke of the dawning of the “Age of Aquarius” with the song quickly hitting the charts leading up to the momentous mass gathering in August of that year known as Woodstock. As Joni Mitchell wrote, “By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong and everywhere there was song and celebration.” Sadly, today is the “Age of COVID-19” and social distancing has become the norm with everybody moving further away from each other along with many hunkering down at home to work remotely. This social isolation can certainly do a number on one’s psyche, especially on shorter or dreary days, making it more of a challenge to maintain a sunny disposition. Fortunately, a “tonic” for mood elevation can be found simply by stepping out in the sunshine for 10-15 minutes at least a few times a week.

The primary benefit of sunlight is not so much to give us a St. Tropez tan in contrast to a pearly white smile, but to boost our Vitamin D supply. Vitamin D is synthesized in our skin through a photosynthetic reaction from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVB). As the saying goes, “everything in moderation.” UVB can cause a sunburn depending on exposure time as well as induce long term effects, most notably skin cancer. Vitamin D is essential for proper bone formation with a deficiency in children causing a soft and deformed bone condition known as rickets. With many schools temporarily closed, it’s important that children get outside on nice days (at a safe distance around the house) to expend some energy, soak in some “sunny D”, and build up an appetite for a nutritious meal as a source of essential minerals and vitamins.

Sunlight is also a modulator of the hormone melatonin that regulates our circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. While melatonin is produced in the pineal gland at night, exposure to sunlight early in the day starts nocturnal production quicker which can help us slip into slumber sooner.  Daylight also boosts our level of the neurotransmitter serotonin which is associated with mood elevation and a sense of happiness among other biological functions including digestion and bone metabolism. To sum it up in an excerpt from the journal Environmental Health Perspectives,

“The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” says melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center. “For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.”

It's no wonder John Denver wrote “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy” as the first verse in his hit song “Sunshine on My Shoulders” written in Minnesota on a dreary day in late winter/early spring.

For more related information, check out these MEMIC Safety Net posts.