Summer is officially here. And if you find yourself with an extra spring in your step, it’s not a coincidence; it’s science. The sun helps boost your mood, but not because of the warmth of the rays or because a summer vacation is on the horizon.
When sunlight hits the eyes, the body produces higher levels of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in regulating mood, sleep patterns and feelings of well-being. Studies have shown that on sunny days, people are more likely to help strangers, answer a survey and give a more generous tip to a waiter. Postoperative patients exposed to sunlight even experienced decreased stress and pain. Conversely, low serotonin levels are to blame for Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is a type of depression that occurs in the typically gloomier winter months.
However, as a dermatologist, I would never recommend any intentional sun, or UV, exposure. Fortunately, the mood-boosting effect of the sun can be replicated with the use of non-UV blue light therapy, or phototherapy, which was discovered in the late 1800s. Since then, a number of affordable, clinically proven at-home solutions have become available. And when directed at your eyes, these light therapies mimic the mood-boosting effects of sun exposure. Try a blue light while eating breakfast or reading a magazine; it takes just 30 minutes a day to get a “seasonal” lift without risking the dangers of sun exposure. Just don’t forget to take your daily dose of vitamin D.