Plants not only need sunlight to thrive.
But we do too!
Sunlight is essential for hormonal function, fertility, sexual function, fibroids, regular & symptom-free periods, emotional & mental health, energy, moods, sleep and so so much more.
However, mainstream media, conventional medicine & sunscreen companies heavily warn to avoid the sun creating a lot of fear.
There is no getting around the fact that getting too much sun is dangerous for your skin.
HOWEVER - avoiding the sun is dangerous too.
It means we miss out on the many crucial benefits of the sun and the major role vitamin D plays in supporting our overall health.
Is it fear of the sun that contributes to inadequate sun exposure & the high numbers of vitamin D deficiency in 41% of women in the USA & 50% of women in Australia?..
I’d say yes, in combination with people spending more time indoors staring at computers & phone screens…
(FYI: Vitamin D is a hormone that is produced in our skin via UVB sunlight exposure.)
Deficiency in vitamin D can be observed in diseases such as rickets, osteomalacia (softening of the bone), decreased muscle functions, immune problems, cardiovascular diseases, infertility, PCOS, diabetes, colon and breast cancer, as well as neuropsychiatric diseases such as depression, psychosis and Alzheimer's.
So - it’s time to stop fearing the sun my friend, instead it’s all about smart & conscious sunlight exposure.
Now - let’s get into answering the biggest questions around sunlight and…
How does sunlight help with energy in the day & sleep at night?
The light/dark cycle of the sun has a powerful effect on the circadian rhythms which are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Your sleep-wake cycle is a light-related circadian rhythm.
It’s your body’s circadian clock that responds to light, as a signal to be awake, and dark, as a signal to fall asleep.
Clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, a.k.a. The Sleep Doctor says his No. 1 tip for having more energy during the day and sleeping better at night is to go outside & get at least 15 minutes of direct natural sunlight as soon as possible after waking up.
Open your blinds, or go for a walk and leave your sunnies at home!
The instant that morning light streams into your eyes, it signals to your brain to stop making sleep hormone melatonin AND your brain’s master clock sets a sort of internal timer, instructing the body to start making melatonin again about 14 hours later just in time for sleep.
Morning light also nudges the body to crank up production of the stimulating hormone cortisol, getting your brain fired up for the day. This is called the Cortisol Awakening Response.
Now as you may know, cortisol is one of our main stress hormones. Poor cortisol gets a bad rap because too much of it is no good, but neither is too little. Cortisol is really important for your menstrual cycles and overall health.
Small increases in cortisol have a positive effect on your body’s stress response, whilst also raising blood sugar levels, boosting alertness & energy, suppressing inflammation, regulating your metabolism & modulating your immune system reducing risks of autoimmune disease.
If your Cortisol Awakening Response isn't functioning well, it will impact your energy levels, blood sugar regulation, inflammation in the body and in the long term increase risk for conditions such as diabetes, depression, and autoimmune diseases - nooo thanks you!
Blood sugar dys-regulation is at the core of PMS, and all hormonal imbalances. And so is inflammation..
This is why it’s so important to get sunlight exposure first thing in the morning to support your circadian rhythms!
Wake up, sit by the window or on your balcony sipping your Luna’s Matcha, or go outside for a walk in the sunlight!
What if you don’t get much sun where you live?
If you don’t get much sunlight where you live, do your best with the light that is available in the morning, even if it’s cloudy. Get outside and get natural light in your eyes. Another option is to invest in a light box or even red light therapy.
On the flip side, sleeping in darkness in the PM is just as important as light exposure in the AM!
Why? Because, light at night has the same awakening effect as it does in the morning.
As I mentioned previously - you have an internal clock that starts producing melatonin around 14 hours after you wake as the sun begins to go down.
Sleeping in darkness at night-time is important for increasing this melatonin production by the pineal gland.
Exposure to light at night is like a cup of coffee! It will interfere with the production of melatonin and the quality of your sleep.
To minimise light at night, set a curfew for screens so you avoid looking at the TV, laptops or your phone at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. If you really have trouble winding down, consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed. Also use warm, low-level, dim lighting in your bedroom and living room at night (or better yet - candles!).
FYI: Even when your eyes are closed, light in the bedroom from alarm clocks, night lights or street lights, can disrupt natural hormonal cycles.
Sleeping in a completely dark room at nighttime helps to support your hormone balance and may help regulate menstrual cycles, decrease hormonal challenges, and improve fertility.
The most effective way to block out light is to wear an eye mask such as our Moon Mask, and use block out curtains or blinds.
How does sunlight help with period pain?
As you may already know, hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, produced during your period, initiate menstrual cramps in your abdomen. The higher the levels of your inflammatory prostaglandins the more pain you experience.
Vitamin D is known to reduce the expression of inflammatory compounds which means it can regulate the production of prostaglandins and help prevent period pains.
However, if our vitamin D levels are low, we will be less efficient at regulating these prostaglandins and may be more likely to experience painful periods.
Experience period pain? Chase that sunshine girl!
How does sunlight help PMS, moods & depression?
While fluctuating hormone levels can be responsible for low mood during your period, a lack of vitamin D could be making matters worse as low vitamin D levels have been linked to increased risk of suffering from depression.
When the sun hits your skin, your brain is triggered to release a hormone called serotonin. We love serotonin because it's associated with boosting your mood and helping you feel calm and focused.
Without sun exposure, your serotonin levels dip, which can be associated with a higher risk of major depression and generally feeling down in the dumps.
Sunlight & serotonin for the win.
Do you experience long cycles (days between one period and another)?
Check your vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that insufficient vitamin D levels (20-30 ng/ml) are associated with two times the increased likelihood a woman will have longer cycles compared to women who have a vitamin D level above 40 ng/ml.
How does sunlight help with fertility?
Research shows that consistent sunlight exposure can increase fertility by up to ⅓! Plus, women with higher vitamin D3 levels are 4 x more likely to conceive via IVF than women with low levels.
Women with adequate vitamin D levels have been shown to have lower risk of pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and postpartum bleeding.
Vitamin D also plays a role in male fertility as it positively impacts testosterone, and the formation & health of sperm. Men’s sperm has been found to be up to twice as active in the summer months!
What about during pregnancy?
There are Vitamin D receptors in the uterus, ovaries, and placenta.
Crucial in supporting the development of your baby's bones, teeth and muscles, Vitamin D is a key nutrient during pregnancy. It is also essential for organising immune cells in the uterus to protect the baby.
While a deficiency of vitamin D negatively affects the overall pregnancy and birth process of moms-to-be, it can also trigger many problems, from gestational diabetes specific to this period to even preterm labor.
It’s important for those who are pregnant to be aiming for at least 20-30 minutes of sunlight each day around noon, eating foods rich in Vitamin D and monitoring levels with bloodwork.
Low vitamin D and breast cancer:
Newer research suggests that women with low levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of breast cancer. Vitamin D may play a role in controlling normal breast cell growth and may be able to stop breast cancer cells from growing.
What about sunlight & shift-workers?
People who consistently work night shifts tend to experience cycle irregularities and exacerbated PMS due to the role sunlight has on mood, energy, cortisol production & metabolism which can have a domino effect on all other systems within the body.
If you're a night shift worker, aim to get 15-20 mins of sunlight after you’ve slept during the day and before you go to work. And sleep with a Moon Mask to help block out light when you are sleeping in the day.
How much sun should I get? When is the best time of day to get in the sun?
Something to be aware of is that there are UVA and UVB rays from the sun, which affect the skin in different ways.
Your body can only generate vitamin D from UVB rays from the sun which vary depending on your location & environment but are most present in the middle of the day between the hours 10am-2pm. This is the time to aim to get outside! As the sun climbs the rate of vitamin D levels go up until it reaches the top position which is known as the Solar noon- maximum, UVB raise and hence max vitamin D generation.
Once the sun reaches the 35 degree angle in the afternoon at 4pm, UVB rays stop entering the atmosphere & UVA rays continue to enter the atmosphere. UVA rays penetrate your skin more deeply - so people who think avoiding midday is a good idea are actually missing out on the benefits of producing vitamin D.
Conscious & healthy exposure to sunlight doesn’t mean tanning for hours on end in the sun!
Try getting outside for an hour a day… or a minimum of 20 minutes. Even when filtered through clouds or rain, the sunlight will continue to have its effect.
A good time for a walk outside is around 1 to 3 p.m. in the afternoon, when the body produces another brief spike of melatonin. So, if you’re someone to feel the afternoon slump & reach for a coffee, instead go outside and take a sunshine break. Leave your sunglasses off to get the full effect and energy boost!
Be sun smart, wear a natural sunscreen & know your own limit to prevent burning.
There are many variables that can affect how much vitamin D you'll produce from sunlight:
Be aware of these factors when considering your own production of vitamin D from the sun.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency are:
Frequent sickness due to low immunity
Muscle pain & weakness
Can we get Vitamin D from foods?
Diet alone is not enough.
As around 90% of our vitamin D requirement is produced when we are exposed to sunlight and only around 10% comes from food, it’s no surprise that many of us may be lacking..
There are a limited number of foods that contain Vitamin D so you can’t get enough to impact your levels in a significant way. However some foods include egg yolks, salmon, vitamin-D enriched foods, sardines and mushrooms. Our kidneys and liver play a crucial role in making the vitamin D we consume via these nutrients available in the body..
There is a reason vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin. No matter how much vitamin D-rich foods one consumes, they do not turn into a form the body can use to meet its needs adequately. For this transformation to happen, the skin needs to be exposed to the sun's rays. Vitamin D is synthesised under the skin and then becomes ready for the body to use.
Is supplementation necessary?
Vitamin D supplements can be necessary for those who are not able to get regular exposure to sunshine, are deficient, or people interested in maintaining a consistent state of vitamin D sufficiency throughout the winter. Visit your practitioner for specific testing to discover if supplementation is necessary for you.
Should I wear sunscreen? What is the best hormone-friendly sunscreen?
A controversial topic. The short answer is yes you should wear sunscreen. However, sunscreen blocks UVB rays which means it may limit the production of vitamin D.
I personally don’t wear sunscreen for the first 15 minutes of sunlight exposure, but then I slip, slop, slap!
However I know my limit before I burn - so the most important thing is that you’re smart, and you know your own limit in the sun to avoid any burning.
Best Natural Sunscreen
What’s super important is that you avoid excess use of chemical sunscreens which are loaded with endocrine disruptors that can cause havoc with women's hormonal health.
My favourite natural face & body sunscreen is from Edible Beauty here. You can get 20% off using the code MOONBOX.
THE KEY: Be consistent with your daily sunlight exposure
Just like your hormones love consistency, sleep thrives on consistency & routine as well. Keep a consistent schedule, going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each day. It’s simple – but for some it's not so easy, so try your best.
So, what steps will you take to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D?
There are many factors that impact our hormonal & menstrual health, whilst sunlight isn’t a silver bullet for all your woes it can most certainly play a BIG role in improving your moods, sleep, energy, PMS, cramps & overall hormonal health.
Want more strategies & hacks for supporting your menstrual health?
For more strategies, hacks and essential knowledge to help balance your hormones & transform your menstrual health check out my brand new PMS & Cramps Masterclass.