I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has been struggling during this unprecedented time in our lives. Not only do we have anxious feelings about potentially catching Covid-19, but studies have shown that staying inside for long periods of time can also be bad for your mental health! Personally, I made the mistake of hiding inside for two months with my daughters when all of this started, and with that came what I like to call the “quarantine blues.”
After my girls and I were feeling yucky for a while, I decided to do some research and I realized that while we have been conditioned to avoid sunlight due to fears of sunburns, skin cancer, and wrinkles, there are actually MANY health benefits to getting some sunlight every day, especially for children. There are even BENEFITS to your skin if you are exposed to small amounts of sunlight which can ease symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Sunlight helps your body make Vitamin D which is important for all of our bones, blood cells, and immune system (what better time for us to build up our immune system?) and it helps us absorb minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Why is Vitamin D so important? It helps lower the risk of developing conditions such as multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.
Another health benefit of sunlight is that it helps us set our internal clock. One thing that I learned recently is that when we get direct sunlight early in the morning, it helps us better fall asleep at night. So, taking our children outside early in the morning will not only get them on a better sleeping schedule, but actually help set their internal clock that tells them when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to go to sleep.
Sunlight also has many mental health benefits due to the fact that it boosts a chemical in your brain called serotonin. Serotonin is what makes you feel calm, positive, and focused. In fact, there is a disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that links low levels of serotonin with the winter months when most people get less sunlight. There have even been studies that being out in the sun can help children form new synapses in the brain which enhances their ability to learn! Going outside to simply sit and read for a short time every day will help them absorb the material and could help them develop stronger reading skills if they are struggling.
The best part is, scientists, say that in order to get the health benefits from sunlight, you only have to go outside between 5 – 30 minutes per day! That’s more than enough time to soak in some sunlight without having to worry about the harmful side effects of sun exposure. Just don’t forget to apply sunscreen, especially if you know that you will be outside for longer than that time period.
With all of that information about how much the sun can impact our physical and mental health, I would like to remind everyone that the CDC is still recommending that we practice social distancing. That means that no matter where or how you are getting your daily dose of sun, you should continue to stay at least 6 feet away from people who do not live in your household and stay out of crowded places for the time being. The sunlight in your backyard or your neighborhood will offer you the same benefits as the sunlight at the beach, without the risk of exposing yourself or others to Covid-19.
Written by: Christine Clark Assistant Director