How Moods Are Affected By The Sun

Essay, Research Paper

How Moods Are Affected By The Sun

Jared Sousa


Descriptive Research

Thesis: The amount of sun people receive affects their mood.

A young woman lies asleep on a cold, overcast winter morning. At 4 A.M., a

faint incandescence radiates from a light bulb placed near her bed. The light

gradually gains intensity and covers until 6 A.M., when the woman awakes. She

had just experienced a simulated dawn of a new day. After being treated with

this for several days, the woman’s annual winter depression slowly goes away.

Does this mean that the less sun you get the worse you feel, or perhaps the

more you get the better your mood? It is very possible that you may feel this

way as millions of people worldwide have experienced it first-hand. This

phenomena is still sort of a mystery as many researchers don’t completely

understand why this happens. “It may be that certain individuals have inherited

vulnerability that causes them to develop depression in the absence of exposure

to sufficient environmental light”1. Frederick A. Cook, the arctic explorer,

provided a vivid description of the effects of prolonged darkness on the human

psyche: “The curtain of blackness which has overfallen the outer world has also

descended upon the inner world of our souls,” Cook wrote in his journal on May

16, 1898, “Around our tables . . . . men are sitting about sad and dejected

lost in dreams of melancholy. For brief moments some try to break the spell by

jokes, told perhaps for the 50th time. Others grind out a cheerful philosophy;

but all efforts to infuse bright hopes fail.”2 Some believe that light affects

the body’s ability to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps induce

feelings of calm and well being. The eye’s sensitivity may also play a part in

sun/mood relations. A study was done to a group of people in the winter and

summer. In the winter the many individuals experienced much more difficulty

seeing dim light after sitting in the dark for a while.3 Another study done in

Vancouver shows that electrical activity in the retinas when a bright light is

shone, is significantly less in winter4.

As much as 5% of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective disorder, also known

as SAD5. SAD is an illness in which the sufferers feel depressed, feel

lethargic, and they overeat . There is no known cause for this widespread

illness. Many researchers of SAD are speculating on the idea that SAD patients

might have seasonal variations in their melatonin secretions. A study of

melatonin patterns in SAD sufferers was done to determine if melatonin was a

factor in the disorder. Since mostly women are affected by SAD, researchers

used healthy women as the control. The researchers who found that the

significant difference in winter and summer pacemaking that occurred in SAD

patients also saw similar patterns in the healthy women. Other studies show

that a SAD sufferer’s eye usually does not take in as much sunlight in the

winter as a normal person, which may exaggerate the depression and other

symptoms.6 Most SAD patients treated with light therapy for a few weeks usually

lose the depression. SAD patients that tended to eat more than one portion of

sweet things (such as chocolate, cake, or ice cream) per day usually found

temporary relief from their illness.7 Swiss scientists believe that the sweet

foods seems to “trigger” the release of the same mood-altering substances that

light triggers.

Nevertheless, light — or lack thereof — can really get under our skin. For

instance, “Rapid changes in the day length greatly modify the daily cycle of

sleep and melatonin secretion,” report researchers led by psychiatrist Thomas A.

Wehr of the National Institute of Mental Health, “. . . brain mechanisms that

detect and respond to seasonal changes in day length may have been conserved in

the course of human evolution.”8 The findings with the sun’s affect on humans

matched those already observed in rats. Many of us have not yet realized what

an important factor light is in our daily life. “Light is a complex stimulus

that has been inadequately specified, given the intense clinical experimentation

of the last five years.”9 Research with these results easily prove that the

sun and light really do alter our mood, and have a great influence on our lives.


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