Remember back in school, how the kids would ask to have class outside on sunny spring days? Seems those kids are on to something -- sunlight is good for your brain.
Of course, the sicker we are with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS), the more we tend to stay inside. It's a natural consequence of not feeling well -- but does it also make us feel worse?
We've known for awhile now that we tend to need more vitamin D than the average person, and now there's even more reason for us to make sure we get a little sunlight on a regular basis; new research shows that it can increase cognitive function by regulating levels of serotonin and melatonin (sleep/wake cycle neurotransmitters) and blood flow to the brain.
This study was specifically on depression, but the underlying physiology of cognitive dysfunction is at least partially the same -- sleep deprivation (from inadequate serotonin/melatonin) and low blood flow impair our ability to think. Regular sunlight, according to the study, improves both.
I know, we've got several barriers to going outside a lot: the light hurts our eyes; we overheat quickly; clothing (ever the outdoor requirement) is painful; and it's a reminder that we need to pull weeds. So what are some alternatives?
- When you're inside on a warm day, open the window (not just the curtains, but the glass) to let in sunlight. Filtered is just as good as direct.
- Get good sunglasses and comfy clothes, and try to go out early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the worst heat.
- Make sure to take a cold drink with you to avoid overheating.
- The science behind this is shaky, but personally I've noticed an effect from full-spectrum light bulbs. I use them in my bathroom and in the lamp where I sit to work.
Other ways to increase serotonin (which your body then converts to melatonin) include medications (antidepressants, especially SSRI/SNRIs), supplements, and even dietary changes. One of the best ways to increase blood flow to your brain is through exercise. It doesn't have to be really vigorous, extended amounts -- just a couple minutes of stretching or leisurely walking can improve blood flow to your brain and your muscles. (Low blood volume, by the way, is getting increased attention from scientists studying FMS and ME/CFS, and it's looking like it could be a really important feature of these conditions. I'll be writing more on that soon.)
Have you found that sunlight helps you think or feel better? How do you make sure you get regular sunlight? Help us all learn by leaving a comment below!
Learn more or join the conversation!
- Low Serotonin: Symtpoms & Treatments
- Supplement Profiles: SAM-e, 5-HTP, Rhodiola
- Overcoming Barriers to Sleep
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