Imbibe sunshine for a natural high

Granted, anything beautiful — whether it’s a perfect body, work of art or picturesque scenery — can be pleasing to the eye and elevate our mood.

by Wayne Purdin — 

What is it about the setting sun? We have all seen it countless times in movies, read about it in novels and, perhaps, experienced it in our own lives. Two lovers drink in a gorgeous sunset, then turn to gaze into each others’ eyes — the perfect moment for a first kiss, or a marriage proposal. They’re both emotionally high and in the mood for love.

As John Denver sang, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy … Sunshine almost always makes me high.” Artists and romanticists describe the setting sun as the uplifting aesthetic experience of a golden orb slowly sinking below the horizon and painting the clouds various shades of peach and pink against the azure canvas of the sky.

Granted, anything beautiful — whether it’s a perfect body, work of art or picturesque scenery — can be pleasing to the eye and elevate our mood. However, in the case of sunlight, there’s more to it. Scientists have discovered that bright light causes a biochemical response, stimulating the production of seratonin, a key mood neurotransmitter. Seratonin helps maintain a positive mood and is converted to melatonin, which is necessary for good sleep. Too little seratonin causes depression and lack of energy.

Some people in the northern latitudes suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during winter, because they don’t get enough sunlight. One cure for SAD is to use a bright light box for several minutes each day. If you live in Seattle, where the sun shines only 25 percent of the time in January, this may seem like a great option. But even if you used it, the doctor treating you for SAD would prescribe the $700 light box and warn you to be careful about staring into the sunset.

Besides the “seratonin high” produced by sun gazing, sunbathers get an additional high from the beta-endorphins and dopamine produced by the skin. Dr. Michael F. Holick, in The UV Advantage, notes, “Sun exposure provides a natural high by stimulating the release of ‘feel good’ substances in your body, such as seratonin, dopamine and beta endorphins. Sunshine also suppresses hormones like melatonin, which makes you feel sluggish and ‘down.’ No wonder people feel so good after spending time in the sun.”

Another doctor, Zane R. Kime, reports in his book, Sunlight, “Sunlight elevates human-female hormones, and will elevate human-male hormones even more rapidly.” No wonder couples tend to kiss after watching a sunset.

Kime and Holick are two rare physicians who do not try to frighten the daylight out of their patients. The anti-sun attitude perpetuated by the medical establishment is unfortunate because sunlight, in moderation, has healing effects far beyond anti-depression and sexuality. Holick’s and Kime’s books summarize the research that has been done on the benefits of sunbathing in treating autoimmune diseases, cancers, cardiovascular disease, insomnia, diabetes, mental disorders and osteoporosis.

However, more research is still necessary, and it should be expanded to include sungazing. In the meantime, lovers will continue gazing into the sunset and sunbathers will keep basking in the rays of the sun. They do not need a scientific paper to confirm what they already know — sunshine makes them feel happy.


Wayne H. Purdin is a freelance writer, publisher of the “Sun Gazette” newsletter, president of the International Sun Imbibers’ Society (ISIS) and Web master of He lives in Glendale, Ariz. 623-256-9098 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 4, August/September 2006.

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