Lack of Sunshine, Not Rainy Days, Brings the Blues: Study

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Rainy day blues should really be called lack of sunshine blues, according to a new study out of Brigham Young University. The study found that lack of sunshine is to blame for some emotional distress.

Sunshine — or lack thereof — has long been a known contributor to emotional distress, but the realization that cold or hot weather, thick air pollution, or even pockets of rain clouds won’t necessarily affect someone’s mood is a new discovery.

“That’s one of the surprising pieces of our research,” said Mark Beecher, the study’s coauthor, clinical professor and licensed psychologist in BYU Counseling and Psychological Services. “On a rainy day, or a more polluted day, people assume that they’d have more distress. But we didn’t see that…The one thing that was really significant was the amount of time between sunrise and sunset.”

Without enough sunshine, emotional distress can increase. These findings apply to the general population, not just people who struggle with seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that happens during the same season each year.

Research presented at the 2016 International Early Psychosis Association meeting found that low vitamin D levels, which can occur from too little sunshine, are also associated with increased depressive symptoms in psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the body and is an important factor in cell and bone growth, as well as strengthening the immune system, according to the National Institutes Of Health. People absorb vitamin D when they are outside and exposed to the sun. When someone spends too much time indoors, their body could become vitamin deficient and they are more prone to depression or other emotional distress.

For those who live in cold climates where during the winter months the days are short and the nights are long, there may be another alternative to getting the recommended dose of sunshine. Light therapy, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, is sometimes used to treat seasonal affective disorder and other conditions related to lack of sun exposure. A patient is placed near something called a light therapy box, which gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.   

With research showing that sunshine matters a lot when it comes to mental health, soaking up some rays could be a cost-effective and natural way to help alleviate emotional distress.

Danielle Tarasiuk
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.