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People cover themselves from head to toe while going out in the sun to protect their skin from skin cancer or getting tanned. But your body needs certain amount of sunlight for certain bodily functions. So, why not just sunbathe for a while to get all the health benefits?
Why Is Early Morning Sunlight Important?
There is nothing beautiful compared to sun's rays falling on your face early in the morning. Exposing your skin to the morning sunlight is known to have greater health benefits than the afternoon or the evening sunlight.
When the sunlight touches your skin, it gets absorbed by melanin, the pigment in your skin, and gets stored and processed into new compounds that are used for important bodily functions. These include the production of vitamin D, strengthening bones, reducing chronic inflammation, increasing immunity, etc  .
Exposure to sun helps in the release of an opiate (ß-endorphin) in the body, which implies that the rays of the sun have healing powers. In addition to that, the combination of ultraviolet light and infrared light in the morning hours help lower inflammation and pain. Infrared light increases the absorption of UV rays in a healthy way as compared to the afternoon sunlight.
Health Benefits Of Sunlight
1. Improves the circadian rhythm
Sun exposure improves the circadian rhythm i.e., the sleep and wake cycle. Darkness stimulates the release of melatonin, a hormone responsible for helping you sleep at night. And at daytime, sunlight signals the brain to stop producing melatonin, keeping you awake.
A study showed the association between the sleep-wake cycle and sun exposure. Participants who were exposed to natural sunlight fell asleep easily at night, thus regulating sleepiness and wakefulness  .
2. Helps in weight loss
According to recent study reports, adults who receive sunlight early in the morning are more likely to lose weight. The research says that there is a positive effect of sunlight on white fat cells that are present right beneath the skin. It helped shrink the fat cells in obese people with type 1 diabetes  .
3. Lowers depression
Exposure to sunlight triggers the hormone serotonin which is linked to boosting mood. If there is a drop in serotonin levels, it can lead to depression with seasonal pattern (seasonal affective disorder or SAD) which usually happens during the winter season. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin  .
4. Keeps the bones healthy
The sun's rays are an excellent source of vitamin D, also called the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin through a photosynthetic reaction triggered by exposure to UVB radiation. As vitamin D accumulates in the body, it enhances calcium and phosphorous absorption, controlling the flow of calcium in and out of the bones to manage bone-calcium metabolism  .
5. Reduces the chances of cancer
Increased sun exposure is said to elevate the risk of skin cancer; however, studies have also shown that a moderate amount of sun exposure can be good for your health too. According to research studies, people who live in places where there is a little amount of sunlight are more likely to get cancer compared to those who live in sunny areas  . These include prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and colon cancer.
6. Treats skin conditions
Sunlight can help treat various skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, jaundice, and eczema. Another benefit of sunlight is that it helps reduce the chances of major chronic diseases such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other viral and bacterial infections  .
7. Reduces the risk of diabetes
Diabetes is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and people with diabetes have a higher risk of early cardiac mortality. There is a strong link between vitamin D, especially vitamin D3 and sunlight. A deficiency of vitamin D contributes to lesser insulin secretion and lesser insulin action  .
8. Strengthens immunity
Researchers claim that sunlight can help boost your immunity by fighting various infections. The sun rays penetrate the skin and reach to other parts of the body's cells to ward off bacterial microbes. The low levels of blue light in the sun rays make disease-fighting T cells in the skin move faster to get into action to fight against the disease. The sunlight activates key immune cells by increasing their movement.
9. Lowers blood pressure
Sun exposure can help reduce blood pressure and slash the risk of heart disease, according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Sunlight alters the level of nitric oxide in the skin and blood, thereby reducing blood pressure. When the nitric oxide is exposed to sunlight, small amounts of it are transferred from the skin to the blood vessel. This causes a drop in pressure  .
How Much Sunlight Is Good For Health
According to the World Health Organisation, exposure to morning sunlight in the arms, hands and face for 5 to 15 minutes, at least 2-3 times per week is enough to receive the health benefits of vitamin D from the sun.
But, if it's longer than 15 minutes, you should protect your skin by putting on a sunscreen with SPF 30. As the UV radiation from the sun can damage cell DNA which can lead to skin cancer.
Avoid the direct sun rays from 10 am to 4 pm as the skin is likely to suffer from sunburn.
-  Holick, M. F. (2004). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease.The American journal of clinical nutrition,80(6), 1678S-1688S.
-  Wright, K. P., McHill, A. W., Birks, B. R., Griffin, B. R., Rusterholz, T., & Chinoy, E. D. (2013).Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle. Current Biology, 23(16), 1554–1558.
-  Ondrusova, K., Fatehi, M., Barr, A., Czarnecka, Z., Long, W., Suzuki, K., ... & Kwan, P. (2017). Subcutaneous white adipocytes express a light sensitive signaling pathway mediated via a melanopsin/TRPC channel axis.Scientific reports,7(1), 16332.
-  Kent, S. T., McClure, L. A., Crosson, W. L., Arnett, D. K., Wadley, V. G., & Sathiakumar, N. (2009). Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study.Environmental health : a global access science source,8, 34.
-  Mead M. N. (2008). Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health.Environmental health perspectives,116(4), A160-7.
-  Holick, M. F. (2008). Vitamin D and sunlight: strategies for cancer prevention and other health benefits.Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology,3(5), 1548-1554.
-  Welsh, P., & Sattar, N. (2014).Vitamin D and chronic disease prevention. BMJ, 348(apr01 2), g2280–g2280.
-  Borissova, A. M., Tankova, T., Kirilov, G., Dakovska, L., & Kovacheva, R. (2003). The effect of vitamin D3 on insulin secretion and peripheral insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetic patients.International journal of clinical practice,57(4), 258-261.
-  University of Southampton. (2014, January 17). Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure.ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 25, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140117090139.htm