How Does Sunlight Affect Your Health?

As the weather starts to warm up, it’s time to start thinking about the impact that sunlight can have on your health. In spite of its importance, sun exposure isn’t a topic that gets much attention in the conversations we have about health and wellness. That’s unfortunate, because our exposure to the sun has an enormous impact on our health. Thus, it’s a subject that I try to broach with my patients, just so they’re aware of it. In particular, I find it important to discuss the benefits of sun exposure.

Are you getting enough sunlight?

In Arizona, most of us are already aware of the hazards of too much sunlight, such as the link between UV radiation and skin cancer. But it’s also dangerous to avoid the sun entirely. The reason can be summed up in two words: Vitamin D. When sunlight hits your skin, it causes your body to produce vitamin D. This vitamin plays a number of important roles in your body, including strengthening your bones, regulating your immune system, and protecting you from diseases such as osteoporosis. Encouraging production of vitamin D is one of the most important benefits of sun exposure.

Is lack of sunlight affecting your sleep?

Are you having trouble sleeping? If so, then lack of sunlight could be one of the reasons. The cause lies in your body’s circadian rhythm—the natural sleep-wake cycle that you experience every 24 hours. When you get plenty of sunlight throughout the day, your body knows that it’s daytime and that it’s time to be alert. If you’re not getting enough sun exposure, then you may have difficulty winding down at the end of the day. This is also why it’s important to minimize exposure to screens—TVs, iPads, smartphones—toward the end of the day, since the light helps to keep your body from adjusting to nighttime and preparing for sleep.

How can you start getting more sunlight?

I recommend to most of my patients that they try to get outside first thing in the morning. Getting that early-morning sun exposure will really allow you to experience its benefits as soon as possible, so you can feel energized for the rest of the day. I also recommend that you get outside again around midday, so that your body can keep producing vitamin D and that your circadian rhythm will stay on track. Of course, it’s still important to protect your skin and eyes from the harshness of the sun’s UV rays. That’s why I recommend using sunscreen and wearing UV-protective sunglasses when you’re outside during the daytime.