Food is medicine. Sunshine is medicine. Like food, sunlight is imperative to our health. In fact, our connection to sunlight is billions of years in the making. And if we want to achieve optimal health and happiness, we need to make time for sunlight. Human cells, like plant cells, depend on that yellow orb in the sky to provide energy. As you begin to understand your body’s relationship with sunlight, the more motivated you’ll be to create better sleep habits, spend time in nature, and more. Grab your sunnies, you’re about to learn how the sun impacts blood sugar.
Why we need bright sun exposure
We need bright sun exposure. Daily. First and foremost, sunlight helps boost a chemical in your brain called serotonin. Serotonin does everything from provide you with energy to help you stay calm, positive, and focused. Secondly, bright sun exposure—in the early part of the day—leads to better sleep. Your eyes need light to help set your body’s internal clock. Early morning sunlight, in particular, seems to help people get to sleep at night. Even 5-15 minutes of bright sun exposure can increase vitamin D levels, aid in weight management, improve your emotional well-being, and more.
the power of photosynthesis
Remember learning about photosynthesis in middle school? It’s one of nature’s most incredible feats. A plant’s glucose molecules is a direct product of the sun’s energy. Those plants produce simple sugars, which eventually transform into various types of complex carbohydrates. When we eat those carbohydrates, like in a sweet potato, our bodies break down those molecules to create energy. Said differently: energy that begins as sunlight becomes bonds in sugars. You’re practically eating sunlight.
what happens if you don’t get enough sunlight?
Your eyes are the brain’s access port to natural light. Your eyes, and thus your brain, need adequate sunlight. Unfortunately, when you’re exposed to inconsistent light exposure—think: erratic sleep, being inside too much, etc.—nearly all bodily functions suffer. Over time, not getting enough sunlight can lead to unwanted health conditions. Specifically, when we don’t get enough sunlight, our bodies don’t create as much serotonin or vitamin D. And low serotonin levels can make us tired and lethargic. This can make it hard to focus or get much done. However, getting sunlight first thing in the morning (and avoiding excess artificial light near bedtime!), we set our bodies and hormones up for success. Including, balanced blood sugar.
how the sun impacts blood sugar
Our sleep-wake cycle—also known as our circadian rhythm—impacts everything from our appetite to insulin sensitivity, blood sugar balance, and energy expenditure. Our cells self-regulate their expression on (close to) a 24-hour cycle, although light and food timing affects this pattern. Most of us aren’t getting enough sleep, nor are we getting enough sunlight. Our current lifestyle and social habits, such as working at night, being exposed to artificial light at night, and altered sleeping schedules are among the factors that can cause circadian disruption. Now, this is impossible to avoid for certain occupations. But for here’s the gist: lack of alignment with natural light cycles contributes to issues with glucose, diseases, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, when your circadian rhythm is inconsistent and dysregulated, it can cause stress on the body.
what happens to blood sugar while you sleep?
More on this, here, but blood sugar levels surge while you’re sleeping. In a healthy person, insulin helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. For those who have diabetes—or experience chronically mismanaged blood sugar—insulin can’t do it’s job very well. Thus, in the middle of the night, blood sugar levels rise. But when blood sugar is managed throughout the day, restorative sleep is much more likely. Basically, it’s a two-way street. Balanced blood sugar leads to restful sleep, and restful sleeps leads to better managed blood sugar.
Low sunlight is linked to low serotonin
We also know that sunshine can impact mood, and that mood is interwoven with our metabolic health. In some people, a decrease in sun exposure can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Hello, winter blues. In other people, mood changes (related to decreased sun exposure) may be more subtle. At any rate, less exposure to sunlight is linked to lower serotonin levels. And low serotonins levels are shown to cause blood sugar regulation issues. On the flip side, moderate-to-high levels of serotonin can improve glucose control. The sun—and serotonin—are helpful for balancing blood sugar.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to blood sugar imbalance
While we can get some vitamin D from foods, like wild-caught salmon and mushrooms, we get a majority of our vitamin D—the sunshine vitamin—from the sun. Vitamin D has strong impacts on metabolic health, yet many people are deficient in it. Low vitamin D levels are associated with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and other disease processes.
the takeaway: get bright sunlight
Sunshine impacts us in more ways than one. It’s incredible how much sunlight affects our core physiology, mood, and metabolic health. From a research perspective, we’re just beginning to understand how the sun impacts blood sugar. When possible, expose yourself to some natural light—every day—to keep your circadian ryhthm (and blood sugar!) in check. And don’t worry about clouds. The sun’s energy shines right through.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.
Thank you for supporting Wellness with Edie! This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.