How to safely enjoy the sun: Tips for balancing benefits and dangers

Have you ever wondered how much sun is too much? Amidst the booming market for sleep supplements and the common advice to get more sunlight for better rest, there exists a compelling link between exposure to natural light and improved sleep quality. 

A recent study found that moderate sun exposure can significantly enhance sleep efficiency by helping regulate your body’s melatonin production [1].

However, as beneficial as it can be, sun exposure is not without its risks. The key is finding the right balance to harness the sun’s perks while protecting yourself from its potential harm. 

This guide will walk you through essential tips to safely enjoy the sun, highlighting both the benefits and dangers of sun exposure.

The benefits of sun exposure

1. Boosts Vitamin D levels

A crucial source of Vitamin D, sunlight supports bone health, immune system and overall well-being. Just 10-30 minutes of midday sun several times a week, depending on where you live [2], can help maintain healthy Vitamin D levels.

2. Enhances mood

Sunlight exposure increases the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This mood-lifting chemical is associated with feeling calm and focused, reducing the risk of depression, especially seasonal affective disorder.

3. Improves sleep quality

Natural light influences your body’s circadian rhythms, which helps regulate sleep patterns. Exposure to morning sunlight has been shown to improve sleep quality [3] by helping people fall asleep faster and enjoy more restorative sleep.

4. Supports immune function

Sunlight exposure contributes to the suppression of an overactive immune system, thus preventing excessive inflammatory responses. It also helps modulate the immune system to defend against infections [4].

The dangers of sun exposure

1. Increases skin cancer risk

The major risk of excessive sun exposure is skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma [5]. The sun’s UV rays can damage your skin’s DNA , leading to mutations and cancer.

2. Causes premature aging

UV rays can also accelerate skin aging, causing wrinkles, leathery skin, and sunspots [6]. Over time, sun exposure can decrease the skin’s elasticity and cause a degradation of skin texture.

3. Risk of eye damage

Chronic exposure to UV rays can cause severe eye conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts [7]. These conditions are some of the leading causes of vision impairment and blindness.

Spending too much time in the sun can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke [8], especially during intense physical activity in hot weather. Symptoms include dehydration, dizziness, nausea, and fainting.

Tips for safe sun exposure

  • Aim to enjoy the sun before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are less intense. This can significantly reduce the risk of UV damage.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours or more often if swimming or sweating. Per Robert Ashley MD, internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA, sunscreen “can decrease the formation of vitamin D3 by the skin, but again, there are many variables, such as how much of your body has sunscreen, how thick the layer of sunscreen and the level of SPF. There is a balance — a Goldilocks zone — between sufficient sun exposure to make vitamin D3 and the risk of getting skin cancer.”
  • Wear protective clothing. Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats can provide extra protection. Consider clothing with UV protection for extended outdoor activities.
  • When the sun is at its peak, use umbrellas or seek shaded areas to minimize direct UV exposure.
  • Check the daily UV index in your area to assess the risk level of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This can help you plan the safest times to be outdoors.

Sunlight has undeniable benefits, but it’s crucial to manage your exposure carefully to avoid the dangers. 

By following these guidelines, you can enjoy the sun’s warmth and wellness benefits while minimizing the risks to your health. Protect your skin, eyes, and overall health by enjoying the sun responsibly.

[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/22423982.2019.1574698
[2] https://www.uclahealth.org/news/article/ask-the-doctors-round-sun-exposure-vital-to-vitamin-d-production
[3] https://amerisleep.com/blog/benefits-of-morning-sunlight-for-sleep/
[4] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/20503121211014073
[5] https://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun-exposure-skin-cancer
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4842382/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21617534/ 
[8] https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/heat-exhaustion-and-heatstroke

Photograph: YuriArcursPeopleimages/Envato
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