Sunshine in Arches National Park


Yes, it’s official now. Medically proven. Something we already knew…” sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy” as John Denver sang it, and we all feel better in the sunshine. With 70% of the U.S. under a blanket of snow this week,  a lot of people who are depressed could benefit with a trip to Phoenix,  The Valley of the Sun.

A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows that bright light treatment may improve depression. This was a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. (It doesn’t get any better than that!) 89 patients 60 years or older had better mood and better sleep just by being exposed to bright light for an hour every morning. After 3 weeks of treatment there was a significant improvement in the treatment group.

Light therapy affected hormone levels, with higher levels of melatonin in the treatment group. This hormone helps regulate circadian rhythm, which affects sleep cycles, among other things. Cortisol levels were lower, which is a hormone that is increased with higher stress levels.

Bright light is cheap! Going outside in the sun is even cheaper. Combining the sun exposure with a little exercise and some endorphin release is a great way for anyone to feel better, even if not clinically depressed. And since most people are vitamin D deficient, you’ll be boosting that vitamin level also. Kind of makes sense doesn’t it? Just don’t overdo it and get skin cancer. Maybe an hour of sun a day, will keep the doctor ( and the pills) away.