The Sun & Human Health: Exploring The Relationship Between Our Health And The Sun
We all know that the sun is an important part of life.
But did you know just how important it is to your health and well-being? With Chasing the Sun, you can learn more about the science behind why our bodies rely on the sun in order to function efficiently.
Its sections draw from numerous scientific studies which show how being deprived of sunlight can negatively affect both physical and mental health.
This includes understanding conditions like jet lag, vitamin deficiencies, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), as it relates to a lack of sun exposure.
There’s even information on why sunbathing was an effective cure for rickets and how daylight saving time may be doing more harm than good.
By understanding the evidence behind why we need sunshine, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to counteract any detrimental effects due to a lack of sunlight.
The Sun Is Our Internal Clock: The Power Behind Our Biological Rhythms And Circadian Synchronization
We all have an internal clock that helps coordinate our bodies’ functions day after day.
This clock, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN, resides in the hypothalamus region of our brain and is made up of around 20,000 cells.
Its main purpose is to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythms, which are a set of daily processes that run like clockwork.
For instance, morning hormones need to switch on to get you ready for your day and as night falls, certain hormones need to be regulated in order to help you sleep peacefully.
All these processes are carefully timed by our SCN based on cues from the sun.
As light fades at sunset, it’s time for the body to start prepping itself for bed while, when light comes in once again in the morning, it’s the signal for blood pressure and core body temperature to go back up and hormones like melatonin -promoting sleep-to shut off.
This natural sync with daylight has been embedded into our very DNA since human life first evolved from primitive cyanobacteria and plants also experience their own daily cycles related to sunlight as some flowers open up only in morning or late at night depending on their pollinating partners.
Similarly we too rely on nature‘s largest source of energy -the sun-to keep us ticking along so that each day brings with it its own set of optimized bodily processes!
The Forgotten Health Benefits Of The Sun: The Incredible Impact Of Vitamin D And Circadian Rhythms
Heliotherapy, or the use of sunlight for therapeutic and rejuvenating purposes, has been practiced for thousands of years.
From Hippocrates’ belief that sunlight had restorative powers to the theories of Roman physician Galen in the 2nd century CE that “the sun was capable of restoring balance between hot and cold humors,” heliotherapy has long served as a method of healing.
In more recent times, sufferers of tuberculosis in the turn-of-the-century began utilizing heliotherapy to treat skin symptoms.
And when labor shifted indoors in the late 19th century leading to a widespread outbreak of rickets in England due to Vitamin D deficiency, heliotherapy was again used as an effective treatment.
Research then showed us how human skin produces Vitamin D in response to ultraviolet light from the sun, a crucial nutrient needed to support healthy bones and prevent skeletal disorders.
Though antibiotics eventually replaced heliotherapy, our bodies still need Vitamin D which is best absorbed through exposure to sunlight.
Unfortunately today’s office workers don’t get enough sunlight – with an average daily unit of lux around 100-300 while an average Amish person gets up 4k lux on summer days!
Even children are being deprived of sunshine as schools are now making great efforts to get kids outside during their school day whenever possible.
It’s clear that heliotherapy has been used for centuries and has countless benefits for our health – both physically and mentally.
Rediscovering The Power Of Natural Light For Health And Well-Being
If you spend too much time indoors under artificial lighting, your body can experience serious consequences.
Your circadian rhythms – or 24-hour biological clock – have a difficult time staying in sync with the actual time of day when you are exposed to too much artificial light.
This can lead to many negative effects, such as difficulty falling asleep, poorer sleep quality, lower energy levels and more.
The blue-white light emitted from computer and smartphone screens can interfere with our natural ability to recognize the difference between day and night and cause us to struggle to find restful sleep.
These types of lights often trick our inner clocks into a perpetual state of twilight and delay the production of melatonin – a hormone that helps us get good shut-eye.
The author tested out an experiment at home by switching solely to candlelight for a month.
Although it didn’t significantly change the amount of sleep she got, the restfulness and depth of her sleep improved and she felt more energized when she awoke in the morning – all signs that her circadian rhythms were working better!
The Benefits Of Circadian Disruption: From Sun Mirrors To Swedish Saunas
Recent research has suggested that circadian disruption may be linked to cancer.
This is due to the fact that our bodies depend on certain rhythms and cycles, such as when we eat, sleep and wake up.
When this natural rhythm is disrupted in any way, it can have a damaging effect on our internal processes.
For example, former U.S Navy submarine captain Seth Burton believes that his constant circadian disruption contributed to the cancer he developed later in life.
In high latitudes where there’s little winter sunlight, this disruption can be particularly detrimental to people’s mental health and mood.
Specifically, it can lead to seasonal affective disorder – often referred to as the “Winter Blues”.
To combat this problem, some places have taken extreme measures like installing sun mirrors or light boxes for their citizens – both of which work to counter the lack of sunlight and counteract SAD symptoms.
Others still resort to enduring cold temperatures in a sauna followed by an icy plunge for twofold relief from SAD – endorphins and serotonin help out here!
How Chronotherapy Can Help Heal Chronic Depression And Bipolar Disorders
Triple chronotherapy is revolutionizing the way doctors and researchers approach chronic depression and bipolar disorder.
This cutting-edge therapy consists of light therapy, a prescription for mood-stabilizer lithium, and an occasional night of sleep deprivation.
It’s designed to strengthen patients’ circadian rhythms and has been shown to be as effective – if not more so – than popular antidepressants with fewer dangerous side effects.
Francesco Benedetti at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan has been treating depression with chronotherapy for the past two decades, and one of his patients, Maria, has experienced remarkable results.
When she feels the onset of severe depression, she stays up for a whole night instead of turning to antidepressants that could have dangerous consequences.
As dawn breaks, she feels the desire to produce art; this is a sign that her circadian rhythms have been reset and her depression has lifted — albeit temporarily.
The success of triple chronotherapy demonstrates its potential as an alternative form of treatment when it comes to dealing with chronic mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.
By unlocking the power hidden within our body’s vestibular system we can start looking at mental illness from a non-pharmacological perspective which may hold even greater promise down the line.
People Are Taking Chronotherapy Seriously – Scheduling Lives According To Internal Rhythms
Many of us are under the belief that we should follow society‘s time guidelines and be on a standard schedule.
But did you know that living a lifestyle more in tune with our own internal clocks might be healthier for us? A growing body of research suggests this may, in fact, be true!
In the German resort town of Bad Kissingen, one business manager has recently been leading a campaign to get people more attuned to their own inner clock as opposed to obsessing with the clock on the wall.
He’s been promoting this idea not only by advocating excluding his town from daylight saving time (DST), but also by pushing for businesses to operate on a looser schedule that accommodates different chronotypes – like night owls or larks.
The suburb of Edina, Minnesota is another example of how adjusting schedules can produce positive results.
High schools shifted their start times from 7:20am to 8:30am and students felt less tired, got better grades and attendance was improved.
In England, a comprehensive school adjusted their start time from 8:50am to 10:00am and saw reduced absences due to illness and higher performance levels.
In summary, Chasing the Sun reminds us of just how important the sun is for our daily lives.
It controls and coordinates our circadian rhythms which can influence hormones, sleep patterns and overall performance and health.
Exposure to the sun also provides us with much-needed Vitamin D and has a positive impact on our moods.
Finally, if you’ve ever experienced jet lag upon taking a long international trip, taking melatonin in the evening will help get your circadian rhythms back in sync.
All these points are reasons why we should prioritize getting some sunshine each day!