Many of us have the tendency to crave sunlight in the wintertime. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and it can sometimes feel like you’ve gone many days without seeing more than a few short hours (or minutes) of sunlight. And you might not be far off; if you work in an office with limited natural light, you might only absorb sunlight on your morning commute… and by the time work is out at 5pm, the sun has set.
Turns out, there’s some intriguing biology behind our winter sunlight cravings, and it has to do with the body’s secretion of melatonin and serotonin in response to natural light. Melatonin – the sleep hormone – decreases when the sun rises in the morning, allowing us to wake up gradually. At the same time, when sunlight hits our eyes, serotonin – the neurotransmitter that controls wakefulness and, appropriately, happiness – levels increase, leaving you ready to start your day.
This hormone and neurotransmitter act inversely throughout the day to bring us from sleepiness to wakefulness and back again – working together in tandem to explain how the sun effects our bodies.
We know – understanding this biology doesn’t make it any easier to go without sun for months on end. Luckily, there are a few easy ways you can increase your natural light intake, despite the cold. If you’re indoors for most of the week, try to fit in a daily, 15-minute lunchtime walk on the sunniest days of the week. It truly can improve your mood – and your productivity! On the weekends, prioritize outdoor time as much as possible by walking to the store to do errands, skipping the gym for an outdoor run on warmer days, and going for a bundled up hike every few weeks to absorb some of the natural world. Brave the elements on a sunny day for a nice backyard grilling session, or enjoy a snowy picnic near a freshly frozen lake.
Of course, if none of these sound entertaining enough for you, head into the great outdoors for some adventurous activities: snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice skating, ice hockey, sledding, and snowboarding are all wonderful options for getting your sweat on while absorbing some delicious sunlight.
Winter doesn’t have to mean darkness and sadness – by taking advantage of the hours when sunlight is present, you can seriously improve your mood… and the season!