What Happens To Our Health When There Is Less Sunlight
You can be in love with summer and dislike autumn and winter. Or, it can be the opposite, and you may be impatiently waiting for the moment when the heat goes down, the colors become softer, and nature becomes more romantic. But whatever season you prefer, the fans of summer and winter are similarly defenseless against the times there is less light. Indeed, the sunlight is life. And when we have less of it: when the days become shorter, nights longer, and the sun doesn’t show up for several days, our health can be in danger. Here is what happens with your body in the cold and dark times of the year and what you can do to help it.
The light heals
We need to spend at least fifteen minutes under the sun per day for our body to produce enough Vitamin D, which determines the normal functioning of many body systems. The morning light which we receive until noon is considered the most useful. And while we have no problem getting sufficient doses (for example, on our way to work), it becomes more difficult each week of autumn. Most of us prefer to get to our jobs by car or public transportation, skipping walking and biking in the cold. Moreover, the closer we come to winter, the later the sun goes up, and most of us get out of our homes when it’s still completely dark.
It is the same with the evening light: while we get enough sunlight during the warm and light period of the year when returning from work or during the evening stroll, now it becomes more difficult. As a result, we become more prone to various diseases and even psychological disorders. Here are just a few of the issues that will most likely happen to us in autumn:
- The decrease in cognitive abilities
Seriously, our ability to work, our memory, and our ability to concentrate are affected in the autumn. The research “Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study,“ participated by more than 17,000 people, has confirmed the direct relationship between the lack of sunlight and deterioration of cognitive abilities. If it gets harder to work with each autumn day, try to find an opportunity to go outdoors for at least fifteen minutes during the day; it should help.
- The increased need for sleep
Melatonin, the hormone associated with our circadian rhythms, actively develops in the dark, which is why we want to sleep. If your natural circadian rhythms are in order, and you haven’t interfered with them by spending time with gadgets or because of stress, you will most likely want to get to bed earlier and sleep more in autumn. If it is ok for you and the long sleep doesn’t interfere with your daily routines, doctors recommend avoiding fighting with yourself and sleeping as much as you want. If you’re going to bed later, you can switch on brighter light in the evenings and start dimming it an hour and a half before going to bed. And don’t forget to ditch gadgets.
- Lower activity
In autumn and winter, we need more motivation to exercise, and the reason is not bad weather or cold but the lack of light. The research, “Daylight saving time as a potential public health intervention: an observational study of evening daylight and objectively-measured physical activity among 23,000 volunteers from 9 countries,” has proven that the longer the daylight, the more active we are. But you shouldn’t succumb to laziness, as exercise is even more critical in autumn and winter to support our immune system. Moreover, it might become more manageable if you start to visit a sauna after the workout — so warm and pleasant. During the first three days after the winter, time shifts approximately by 5%. According to the researchers, this can be caused by changing the sleep pattern, which leads to higher production of stress hormones, which, in turn, can induce a heart attack in those prone to heart disorders. Thus, if you or your close ones suffer from heart and vascular disorders, you should pay more attention to your health in autumn and after the wintertime shift.
- Having headaches more often
When it is dark outside all the time, it is not only us who suffer but also our circadian rhythms. When we go to sleep earlier, our night’s rest lasts longer. If we have to get up before sunrise, the rhythm becomes even more irregular as, according to our bodies, we wake up at the wrong time day after day. These disorders lead to a higher risk of cluster headaches that appear on one side of the body and can continue for quite a long time. These are very dangerous headaches that can lead to severe neurotic disorders. If this is the case for you, you may want to consult a doctor.
Fight the darkness
What can we do for our health during the dark time of the day? Here is some simple advice:
And the best way to do it is to go outdoors: to the street or a terrace. If you don’t have a chance to leave your premises, ensure the room is freshly aired. A morning workout is great in any season, but in winter, it will provide you with additional energy. It will stimulate your metabolism, which usually slows down in autumn and winter.
- Sleep right
A good night’s rest is critical when there is insufficient sunlight and no way to get more energy. Make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time, take gadgets out of the bedroom (there is evidence that most of them negatively influence the quality of sleep) and create relaxation habits, for example, reading or keeping a diary (but only pen and paper, no laptops).
- Take a walk at lunchtime
A short walk during lunchtime will, first of all, let you get a little sunlight, which is desperately limited at this time of year, and, secondly, will add more activity to your lifestyle. You achieve a weekly aerobic physical activity goal for just twenty minutes per day. Benefits only!
- Hang thick curtains
You don’t need them in every room except the bedroom. The darker the bedroom, the better you sleep, and the easier it is for your body to produce melatonin, which, as a result, gives you better rest. The best thing you can do in the dark time of the year is to sleep well and use the shortened day to the fullest.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin D
Although the other vitamin name is “sunny,” you can get it from food. This vitamin is found in significant quantities in mushrooms, fatty fish, cheese, shrimp, and other seafood, as well as in ordinary chicken eggs. Try to eat these products daily, especially for breakfast, and the lack of sunlight will be easier to bear.
- Take vitamin D supplements
As strange as it may sound, the greatest deficiency in Vitamin D is reported in countries with a lot of sunny days per year and where the residents are almost unaware of the lack of sunlight. Meanwhile, the deficit is smaller in countries where autumn and winter are really dark times of the year. Most likely, the reason is the habit of taking vitamin complexes and supplements. In the Northern European countries, these are taken more often and in larger quantities. It is a good habit, especially if you live where the end of summer means less sunlight and longer nights.
Can you come to love autumn and winter?
You not only can but should love them since autumn and winter make up half of our lives, and we just cannot waste this time. Autumn can become a beautiful time of the year, full of romance, peaceful joys, and exciting encounters. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and your close ones and remember that we humans can change the circumstances to our benefit.
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