With the end of summer bringing us a few bright days next week in the Pacific Northwest, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss the health benefits of a moderate amount of sun exposure. We also need to be careful not to let the sun damage our skin, so we need a routine for managing our sun exposure and keeping it a health benefit.
Most of us know Vitamin D is made by the sun. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that regulates our bones, muscles, immune system, mood, and much more. Our body's production of Vitamin D relies on UV rays from the sun. The sun's ultraviolet B rays interact with a protein in the skin, converting it into vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D. In Washington state, we see many residents low in this important vitamin because of our lack of sunlight in the winter. It takes 15 minutes with arms, chest, neck and head exposed without sunscreen to make 2000iu Vitamin D, the most common daily dose of supplemental Vitamin D. Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means you can make Vitamin D now for use in the winter months.
When we expose ourselves to bright light in the morning, not only do we stimulate production of Vitamin D, but we boost Serotonin as well. Serotonin relies on Vitamin D. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter most targeted in anti-depressant therapies and not only provides us with a mood boost, but also helps regulate appetite, sleep, memory, and sexual function.
More sunlight exposure during the day stimulates more production of melatonin, our sleep hormone, in the evening. Melatonin is inhibited by Cortisol, which can be stimulated by too much light in the evening. Most of us have experienced the second wind, or that boost of energy directly after barely being able to stay awake. The sleepy part of this equation is melatonin rising, and the awake part is cortisol rising because the message being sent to the body when it's not allowed to sleep is that it's in danger. Artificial lights in the house can be culprits so I suggest using blue light blocking glasses, like the ones for video games, in the evening after dinner.
To sum it up, I suggest taking the first 15 minutes or so outside without sunscreen, but then applying sunscreen to protect the skin from sun burn or damage. I like St. John's Wort infused oil as a sunscreen. Here is a guide to safe sunscreens: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/best-sunscreens/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/. Try to find time with sun exposure on every day the mountains are out in the PNW, preferably in the morning, for at least 15 minutes. Take a walk, work out on the porch, start a small garden, whatever gets you outside. Your body will thank you.