The long, dark days of winter, hours spent indoors in front of the television or computer, or excessive use of sunscreen can all result in a lack of exposure to the sun. While it may seem as if your tan is the only thing that suffers when you don’t get enough sunlight, in actuality your health may also be affected. Lack of sunlight can affect the body physically, mentally and emotionally.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is a nutrient that is essential to maintaining a healthy body, including the promotion of strong bones and a healthy immune system. Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to the sun, and thus lack of sun exposure can result in low vitamin D levels. Lack of vitamin D can lead to muscle and joint pain, and doctors have documented a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased instances of heart attack, stroke and heart failure, as well as multiple sclerosis. Those with dark skin living in northern locations are most susceptible to vitamin D deficiency, due to their high levels of pigmentation.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression triggered by a lack of sunlight. People are most often affected by SAD during winter months, when the days are shorter and darker. Symptoms of SAD include oversleeping, loss of energy and fatigue, overeating, anxiety, mood swings, decreased sex drive and lack of concentration. Sufferers may also find themselves more prone to illness or infections due to a weakened immune system. The effects of SAD may vary from person to person. While some people experience only mild mood changes, others may find themselves unable to function. Treatment for SAD includes the use of light boxes, antidepressants and therapy. In most cases, SAD symptoms begin to disappear with the arrival of spring and the return of sunlight.
Changes in Sleep Pattern
Lack of exposure to the sun may also affect sleep patterns. Exposure to the sun helps the body determine when to release the hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate the body’s internal clock by signaling when it is time to go to bed. In a five-day study performed by researchers in New York State, children were given glasses that blocked blue light emitted by sun rays. At the end of the five days, the results showed the children had a delayed release of melatonin of approximately six minutes each day, and went to bed an average of a half an hour later than at the start of the study.
Ways to Combat the Effects
It is possible to combat the effects of lack of sun exposure. The easiest way to do this is to safely increase your sun exposure. This means going outside on sunny days or opening your drapes to let the light in. Use the recommended amount of sunscreen to prevent overexposure, but avoid overusing sun-block, as this can prevent your body from reaping the benefits of sun exposure. During winter months, you can combat the lack of sun by using a light box and exercising to fight fatigue and depression. You may also combat vitamin D deficiency by taking vitamin D supplements.