Sunlight is vital for the human body to produce vitamin D, key to musculoskeletal, immune system and mental health. This essential vitamin helps maintain bone density and strength, and may also protect against certain cancers, depression, diabetes and other diseases. The bad news? Due to lack of sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency is increasing among the general population.
"…Because people have become frightened of getting skin cancers they are avoiding the sunshine, but sunshine offers one of the best sources of vitamin D which protects the body from a number of diseases." "We have an overzealous fear of the sun," says Todd Mangum, M.D., with the Web of Life Wellness Center in Salt Lake City. We have now reached an "epidemic level of low vitamin D." He argues that lathering up with sunscreen and less time spent outdoors has contributed to this modern day phenomenon.
The latitude where you live, your age and skin color also helps determine vitamin D levels. Daily sun exposure in sunny regions can help produce adequate levels of vitamin D. Those living in northern climates, especially in the winter, have less ability to produce this vitamin through the skin. "In the U.S., only people who live south of a line drawn from Los Angeles to Columbia, S.C., get enough sunlight for vitamin D production throughout the year," Others at risk are the elderly and those with dark skin (dark skin absorbs less sunlight).
There is some controversy surrounding what is a normal vitamin D level. Most experts agree that it’s above 30 ng/ml, but others suggest that levels as high as 75 ng/ml are needed to maintain health. "There is a wide range of what’s acceptable," says Mangum.
Vitamin D deficiency is a global problem. A study of healthy children 6-21 years old living in Northeastern United States showed that 55% had vitamin D levels less than 30 ng/ml. A study of older adults (65+) in the Netherlands found similar results: 50% of vitamin D levels were less than 20 ng/ml.
What can you do? Get out into the sun. According to webmd.com, "Five to 30 minutes of sun exposure to the face, legs, or back -without sunscreen – at least twice a week should give you plenty of vitamin D." "I’m a huge fan of sunlight," says Mangum.
Vitamin D is mainly produced through our skin in response to the sun, but it is also absorbed into our intestines through the food we eat. Some foods that contain this important vitamin are: cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, egg yolks and cheese. Milk, breakfast cereals and some brands of orange juice have been fortified with vitamin D. Supplements may be warranted, but because it’s a fat soluble vitamin (along with A,E and K) you can get too much of a good thing. Work with your physician or registered dietician; get a blood test to determine your vitamin D level. Discuss the results with your doctor and figure out how to increase your vitamin D intake without overdoing it.
Clean up your sleep
• Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
• Make sure your room is dark, quiet and cool.
• Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine in the late afternoon and evening.
• Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
• Have a regular, relaxing bedtime routine.
• Exercise regularly, at least a few hours before bedtime.
• Avoid exposure to bright light before bed.
• Stay off your computer and TV 2 hours prior to bedtime
• Keep a regular bed and wake schedule, including weekends.
• If you have difficulty sleeping, consult your healthcare practictioner.
(Source: National Sleep Foundation)
• For more information on sleep related issues: www.sleepfoundation.org.
• www.lighttherapy.com for further information on light therapy and Apollo light therapy products.
• "No More Sleepless Nights," by Peter Hauri and Shirley Linde. This comprehensive book is based on sleep disorder studies from Mayo Clinic’s insomnia program, of which Hauri is the director. Along with a companion workbook, "No More Sleepless Nights" provides strategies for managing and overcoming insomnia.
• For an alternative approach to sleep therapy, check out the sleep device: DreamKeeper on www.hbiusa.com. According to the biomedical device company HBI, DreamKeeper uses proprietary technology to rebuild the user’s biological clock and improve sleep quality.
– Debbie Leaman