Daylight and vitamin D: why you need them during the menopause
How vitamin D can support your bones, and daylight can lift your mood and help you sleep
The winter months can feel like a hard slog as you crave lighter mornings and evenings, and long for the feeling of the sun’s warmth on your face.
You might experience a dip in your mood, find it hard to get up in the morning and lack energy to face the day. This is true for many of us and there are physiological reasons why our body and mind are affected by winter’s darkness.
So what are the benefits of daylight, and how can you reap the benefits during the perimenopause and menopause?
Start your day with light to help your nights
If your perimenopause or menopause has disrupted your sleeping patterns, starting your day with a walk outside is a great way to let your body know you need to be awake and active and reset a healthy circadian rhythm.
There are specialised light receiving cells in your retinas that tell your brain to stop making the sleep hormone melatonin and the light stimulates production of the hormone cortisol, to help get your brain fired up for the day. A light early morning walk will usually help you fall asleep more quickly at night too.
Try and get at least 15 to 30 minutes outside in the morning and then again between 1-3pm when the body produces another brief spike of sleep hormone.
If this isn’t possible, position yourself facing a window or failing that, add some more indoor light via lamps near to your face.
If you feel you need an extra light boost, you can use a dawn simulator or light therapy lamp in the morning.
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Vitamin D boosts your bone health
Otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your gut and these nutrients help keep muscles, teeth and bones strong and healthy.
You generally can’t get enough vitamin D from diet alone and your body makes most of what it needs when exposed to the sun’s rays.
According to NHS advice, if you live in the UK or other countries with less sunshine, it is a good idea to take vitamin D as a supplement at least in autumn and winter; 10mcg (400IU) a day is the recommended amount. If you tend to cover up your skin for religious or cultural reasons, or spend most of the time indoors due to illness or disability, it is especially important to take vitamin D .
Your risk of weaker bones increases after the menopause, so a vitamin D supplement is especially worth thinking about if you are perimenopausal or menopausal.
Vitamin D also can improve the immune responses in your body so can improve your ability to fight infections .
Being in sunlight helps avoid low mood and weight gain
Apart from the benefits to sleep and bone health, studies show that exposure to daylight can help to improve alertness, decision making, cognitive function, regulate mood and ward off anxiety and depression [3,4].
Sunlight increases the release of the hormone serotonin, that helps boost your mood and feel calm. When your serotonin levels dip, you may be at risk of depression and there could be a seasonal pattern to this lowering of mood.
One of the treatments for depression with a seasonal pattern is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Light from a box mimics natural sunlight, stimulating the brain to produce more serotonin and reduce production of the sleepy hormone, melatonin.
Along with a lowering of mood, some people notice appetite changes in seasons with less daylight and crave foods high in carbohydrates which may lead to weight gain and a lack of energy.
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It is thought that daylight exposure levels may affect the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, and daily time in sunlight can help promote a healthier metabolism, body weight and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes .
So whenever you see some winter sunshine, go outside and face the sun. Enjoy a walk or just your morning cuppa outside – it really is self-care!
1. NHS.uk (2020), ‘Vitamin D’, www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
2. Aranow C. (2021), ‘Vitamin D and the immune system’, J Investig Med, 59(6): pp.881-6. doi: 10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755. PMID: 21527855; PMCID: PMC3166406.
3. Boubekri M., Lee J., MacNaughton P., et al. (2020), ‘The impact of optimized daylight and views on the sleep duration and cognitive performance of office workers’, Int J Environ Res Public Health, 17(9):3219. doi:10.3390/ijerph17093219
4. Anjum I., Jaffery S.S., Fayyaz M., Samoo Z., Anjum S. (2018), ‘The role of vitamin D in brain health: a mini literature review, Cureus, 10(7):e2960, doi:10.7759/cureus.2960
5. Figueiro, M. G., Plitnick, B., Rea, M. S. (2012), ‘Light modulates leptin and ghrelin in sleep-restricted adults’, International Journal of Endocrinology, 530726, doi.org/10.1155/2012/530726