Feature Archive

Summer Sun for Winter Blues

Basking in the sun for depression?

By Lynda Liu
WebMD Feature

Spending time basking in the sun may be more important than you think. Sure, it's a sensual pleasure and brightens your day. But far beyond that, the summer sun may help you avoid winter depression.

Called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), seasonal depression and mood variation is known to be related to how much sunlight you receive. Now some researchers are concluding that greater exposure to summer sun may help reduce mood problems during the winter months that follow.

A Delicate Balance

Your mood is influenced by a complex web of relationships between sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the hormone associated with wakefulness and elevated mood). As darkness falls, your melatonin levels naturally increase. And as the morning light emerges, melatonin levels decrease.

Serotonin levels increase when you're exposed to bright light -- a major reason why moods tend to be more elevated during the summer. This hormone is the basis of today's most popular and successful antidepressant drugs, called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work by helping naturally produced serotonin stay in the bloodstream longer, keeping your mood and energy levels higher.

Light Therapy: Better Than SSRIs?