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What Are the Effects of Not Getting Enough Sunlight?

From sunburns and dark spots to more severe long-term consequences like skin cancer, you may be all too familiar with the potential repercussions of enjoying one too many beach days without sunscreen. And while it’s likely that your parents discussed the negative effects of having a little too much fun in the sun, they probably never took the time to go over what happens if you don’t get enough of it. 

The sun’s potentially damaging UV rays are the very same ones that provide your body with a natural form of vitamin D: an essential nutrient that keeps your bones healthy, reduces inflammation and supports your immune health and metabolism. 

But what happens when you’re not receiving enough sunlight? 

While it’s safe to say you won’t turn into a vampire, it is possible to experience some less-than-pleasant effects. In this article, we discuss the potential impacts of not getting enough sunlight and how much sun you actually need. 

Effects of Not Receiving Enough Sunlight 

There are several reasons individuals might not obtain enough natural sunlight. Whether they live in an area that boasts more nighttime than daytime hours or have a medical condition that makes it challenging to go outside, deficiency in sunlight is more prevalent than you might think. 

Here are some of the most common effects people experience if they don’t receive an adequate amount of sunlight: 

  • Weakened immune system 
    Vitamin D plays an important role in keeping your immune system in tip-top shape by boosting immune cells’ production of pathogen-fighting proteins. When you don’t absorb enough sunlight, you may experience a weakened immune system and become more susceptible to getting the flu, cold or other infections. 
  • Low energy
    Sunlight may be responsible for increasing the brain’s production of serotonin, the hormone associated with producing a sense of calm and boosting your mood. Without sunlight, your serotonin levels may dip, which could trigger a state of fatigue even when you’ve received an adequate amount of sleep. 
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
    If you live in an environment where the sun is in short supply during those frigid winter months, you might be all too familiar with the winter blues. But did you know that the sun may be partially to blame for those feelings of depression or mood changes? The decrease in sunlight during winter months can impact your internal clock — also known as circadian rhythm — which can disrupt your sleep schedule and lead to feelings of depression. 
  • Weaker bones
    Sunlight plays an important role in providing your body with vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus to keep your bones strong. Without enough vitamin D, you are more prone to becoming an unwilling recipient of weaker bones. Studies have shown that low vitamin D levels can lead to lower bone density, which may be a leading factor in causing potential fractures or osteoporosis. 
  • Weight gain
    We’ve already mentioned that a lack of sunlight can affect your circadian rhythm. When that biological clock is altered, you may find it more challenging to sleep at night. If that happens repeatedly, you’re more likely to feel fatigued throughout the day, lending less energy for a regular exercise routine. In addition, the sun may play a part in keeping your metabolism on track. One study found that UV rays cause nitric oxide production, which helps your metabolism function properly. Without sunlight, your metabolism could slow down, making it easier to gain weight. 

How Much Sun Is Enough? 

While you don’t need to lay on a log like a turtle basking in the sun to receive an ample amount of vitamin D, the question remains — how much sun do we need to ensure we’re getting our daily dose? 

It largely depends on three factors: 

  • The color of your skin
    Fair-skinned individuals usually have less melanin (the pigment that determines your skin color) than people with dark skin. Melanin acts as a natural sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays. This means that people with darker skin often need to spend longer periods in the sun to receive the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin. 
  • The time of day you go outside
    UV rays are at their peak during midday. By choosing to take a stroll in the early afternoon, you won’t need to stay outside as long to get an ample amount of sunlight and vitamin D. 
  • The amount of clothing you wear 
    When it’s cold, you usually don more layers of clothing. While these layers do keep you warm, they also ensure that less of your skin receives direct contact with sunlight. It’s important to stay outside longer when you’re bundled up to ensure your uncovered skin is absorbing enough vitamin D. 

Overall, the amount of sun you need depends on the factors listed above. But if you’re able to expose one-third of your skin by wearing shorts and a T-shirt, then spending 10 to 30 minutes in the sun three times a week is plenty of time to ensure you’re getting enough sunlight. 

Gain Practical Knowledge for Careers in Medicine at the University of Florida 

If you’re interested in giving your resume a sizeable boost, look no further than the University of Florida’s online Medical Physiology Graduate Certificate program. In as little as one semester, you can complete the 9 to 14 credit hours needed to obtain the certificate. This program consists of rigorous and up-to-date content and is ideal for a variety of professionals in the medical community, including: 

  • Nurses 
  • Physician assistants 
  • Medical school applicants 
  • Individuals preparing for the MCAT 
  • High school or community college professors teaching biology or physiology courses 

Learn more details about our online Medical Physiology Graduate Certificate program or take the next step and apply today.