FEEL ENERGIZED AND READY TO START YOUR DAY
Without a doubt, feeling energetic and optimistic in the morning has a significantly positive impact on not only our general approach to the tasks and goals that lay ahead for the day, but in our ability to function at a high and efficient level.
With many differing factors influencing our morning mood and energy levels, consideration of a variety of strategies, particularly those which rely on freely available resources and which can be done relatively easily and time-efficiently is warranted.
The most important factors are perhaps sleep quantity and sleep quality, but there are other scientifically-supported factors which we might naturally recognize as important. In this brief blog episode, I would like to expose you to a widely and freely available practice which can help boost your mood, energy, alertness and hopefully your daily success.
WHAT IS SEROTONIN?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter molecule produced in the gut, central nervous system, and blood platelets from the amino acid tryptophan. Nutritional sources of tryptophan include turkey, bananas, milk, pineapples, and plums.
Without going into biochemistry, tryptophan is converted in a number of steps into active serotonin. Serotonin is then free to interact with nerve endings to produce its various biological effects.
CORRELATION BETWEEN SEROTONIN & MOOD-RELATED SYMPTOMS
The implication of the serotonin system in psychiatric symptoms and disorders has been known for quite some time, and is a significant target for the treatment of a range of psychiatric disorders.
SEASONALITY OF MOOD & ANXIETY DISORDER SYMPTOMS
If you’ve ever lived in a temperate climate (one where there are at least fairly distinct seasons throughout the year, you may have either experienced yourself, or known someone who experienced symptoms of what is now commonly referred to as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD. This is generally recognized as an increase in pre-existing psychiatric/psychological symptoms associated with mood disorders including (among others) depression or anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety and panic symptoms, with a greater proportion of individuals reporting exacerbation of these symptoms during the winter months.
The seasonality and association with the winter months is consistent with a potential influence of reduced light exposure (and/or availability) during these months. Quite seriously, studies have shown a correlation between number of available hours of sunshine and completed suicide as well as the use of violent methods.
SEROTONIN LEVELS AND SUNLIGHT EXPOSURE
There are data correlating serotonin levels in humans with available sunshine, with natural variation in levels observed in normal human adults – including in blood, brain concentrations, concentration in spinal fluid as well as platelet serotonin uptake. More interestingly, light exposure appears to also influence the ability of serotonin to bind to its receptors.
SEROTONIN & THE SKIN
It’s been shown that serotonin may be produced from tryptophan in the skin, in addition to the other sites indicated earlier from gut to brain. Exposing the body to sunlight therefore may be one mechanism of increasing serotonin production.
SEROTONIN & THE EYES
Recent studies suggest that brain circuits connecting light-sensing cells in the retina of the eye with specific brain regions may be implicated in mood-related symptoms. Specifically, a type of retinal cell called an “intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell, ipRGC” responds to light and is involved in circadian (the body’s natural light/dark, sleep/wake) rhythm regulation.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SEROTONIN LEVELS
GET OUT INTO THE SUNSHINE!
I admit to being overly spoiled by living in Hawai‘i, with abundant sunshine and warmth year round – not to mention the range of other benefits of tropical island life!
With that disclaimer and admission out of the way, one of the most effective ways that I’ve found for getting an immediate boost of energy is to get some sunshine each morning.
Based on the science, allowing sunlight into the eyes, and onto the skin can increase the production of serotonin – a happy neurotransmitter. The guidelines for how long and how much vary, and so I’d suggest being judicious in your exposure overall to minimize adverse effects of prolonged ultraviolet, UV light exposure, and of course to be time efficient. 30 minutes is for me, a good compromise, but I would strongly recommend that each person identify the duration that makes the most sense for them, their physical and mental health and other personal concerns and factors.