How to be well: Embrace the sun

3 reasons why just 15 minutes of sunlight a day can improve mood, physical well-being, and sleep cycles.

How to be well: Embrace the sun
minute read

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Caley Scott, ND

You know that familiar feeling — the gentle warmth when you first step into the sun after a long day indoors. We feel this way because ultraviolet rays from the sun photosynthesize in our bodies (yes, just like a plant) and help us produce healthy levels of vitamin D and serotonin, two nutrients we need to feel truly alive. 

Our modern ways have pushed us to the limit in terms of time spent in cars, homes, and offices. In fact, the average American spends about 93% of their lives indoors. Artificial lighting and increased screen time makes it easy to forget about prioritizing the most important light source in our lives

This week, for Mental Health Awareness Month, we challenge you to feel the sun on your skin for at least 15 minutes every day. Here’s why: 

1. Sunlight has a direct impact on optimism. 

You’re probably familiar with serotonin. It’s a neurotransmitter that helps regulate psychological functions like mood, memory, sleep, and behavior. When ultraviolet sunlight hits our skin, our body begins to produce vitamin D, which signals our brain to make more serotonin. It's one of the reasons why a smile comes so easily on a sunny day. 

Higher serotonin levels correlate with satisfaction, calmness, and all kinds of good feelings, while low levels are often linked to anxiety and depression. In fact, most antidepressants work by boosting serotonin levels. With the majority of money and research tunneled into pharmaceutical efforts to raise serotonin levels, we often forget about the natural mood-boosting resources available to us every day, like sunlight.

New research also suggests that we have vitamin D receptors in our brains. Sunlight is our number one source of vitamin D, which means vitamin D deficiency may be linked to too much time indoors, which often manifests itself in mood and depressive disorders. 

Of course, sunlight is likely not an end-all remedy for severe mental illnesses. But if you haven’t been feeling the brightest — it’s worth considering how much time you’ve been spending outside. Start to think of your weather app as a mental health tool. 

2. Sunlight also helps maintain physical well-being. 

Vitamin D and serotonin are not only crucial for mood health, but also in how well our bodies function. At least 1,000 different genes are known to be regulated by vitamin D. A few major call-outs: calcium metabolism and immune system function. Without adequate vitamin D levels, our bones may not develop properly and our immune cells have to work overtime to keep us from getting ill. 

As far as serotonin goes, this molecule can also help improve gut health. If you are experiencing low serotonin levels, this could manifest in symptoms of being overly hungry, or never hungry at all. Serotonin can promote nutrient storage, increasing gut mobility and healthy cycles. 

When spending time in the sun, it's smart to have some sunscreen on hand — yet research shows there are some real benefits of limited UV exposure for our skin, especially if you experience any skin conditions such as eczema. The short-term exposure to UV rays has the ability to produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, with may help sooth and relieve problem areas. Just be sure to apply some sunblock if you’re outside for more than 30 minutes. 

Sunlight may also improve eye health, so when taking your 15 sunlight break, try going shade-free so your retinas can absorb the full spectrum of light. 

3. Sunlight is crucial for a healthy sleep/wake cycle. 

 Circadian rhythm is arguably one of the most important bodily cycles, in charge of regulating our internal clock, sleep, and alertness. When we step into the morning sunshine, the body naturally begins to awaken with energy to start the day. The opposite is true at night — melatonin releases once the sun goes down, gently guiding us to sleep on schedule. 

Without morning sunlight (or blue light glasses after sunset), we tend to fall at risk for a dysregulated internal clock, which can mess with our natural melatonin production. Noticeable signs of this include midday drowsiness, trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up. 

But with a little bit of time set aside for a morning stroll and do not disturb turned on at night, we can help our minds and bodies get back on track. 

Also, if you live in an area with limited UV exposure or have other limitations to sunlight, like a night shift job or a cold climate year-round, you may consider a light box. These guys mimic UV light and are often used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), helping support proper sleep cycles. 

Next steps: 

Studies suggest all you need is 15 minutes of sunlight a day for optimal vitamin D levels. That’s it. Set this number as your daily goal to start, and once you get the habit going, you’ll likely find yourself gravitating outside more often. 

This week, notice how your energy shifts when you are under the sun. Wake up 10 minutes earlier than usual and take a quick walk before your day starts. Instead of spending your lunch in the break room, take it outside for a midday serotonin boost. When you get home, watch the sunset and journal about the day. And remember: a cloudy day is still an opportunity to get some UV rays. 

If you love cannabinoids like we do — be sure to check out our Rise products. CBG feels like sunshine, so it's only natural you pair this wellness booster with your daily UV rays.

Post a pic of your daily 15 in the sun and tag us @getsunmed for a chance to win a free CBG Neuro Water Soluble. We can’t wait to see how you choose to embrace the sun.



Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health | NIH

The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants 

Physiology, Serotonin | NIH

Why Sunlight Is So Good For You | TIME

How to increase serotonin in the brain without drugs | NIH 

Effects of ultraviolet light on mood, depressive disorders and well-being | WILEY

Why Seasons Effect Mood | PBS 

Emerging Roles for Serotonin in Regulating Metabolism: New Implications for an Ancient Molecule |  OXFORD

Impact of sun exposure on adult patients affected by atopic dermatitis | NIH

Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythm | CDC 

The Role of Melatonion in the Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Cycle | Psychiatric Times

Season effective disorder treatment: Choosing a light box | MAYO CLINIC 

Time for more vitamin D | Harvard Health Publishing