Ever get depressed? Know someone who gets depressed? Read on, this one’s for you:
The NudeSpots Depression Survival Guide
I did some articles on sun deficiency and mood disorders recently. Severe, life-disrupting PMS and seasonal affective disorder.
Sure seems that if you let yourself suffer a long-term lack of sunshine you’re really asking for trouble. We already knew that’s the case with physical health, but there seems to be just as much evidence that we need sunshine for our mental and psychological health as well.
It’s not only the psychological boost we get from bright sunshine, and the vibrant pretty colors it produces all around us, but mentally and physically you simply can’t function 100% without it. Our brains require bright light exposure through our retinas to start triggering serotonin releases (which we physically, mentally, and emotionally require) and our body as a whole requires the vitamin D we get from sun exposure in order to perform basically any biological process you can possibly think of.
Kinda like how most plants require sun exposure in order to survive, humans do too. Unlike plants we don’t photosynthesize our food through sun exposure, but we do synthesize an anabolic hormone from sun exposure (cholecalciferol, aka vitamin D) that you literally require to to live.
A lot of people like to live as if this weren’t the case, but we’re all solar-powered. It’s mechanically built into your biology. If you’re not getting adequate sunshine, you’re going to not feel so good. One of the symptoms: depression.
Maybe one of the ugliest health conditions known to us, depression is a dark force that, if not challenged, will slowly ruin your life and destroy your reality as you know it. It will cost you relationships, friendships, careers, jobs, opportunities, will damage your physical health, possibly damage people around you, possibly cost you your life, and contribute to lots of other health problems along the way.
Symptoms of depression: anxiety, apathy, loss of interest in things you typically enjoy, hopelessness, social withdrawal, social isolation, cognitive impairment, psychomotor retardation, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, poor eating habits, attraction to drugs and alcohol, and more.
When you’re really depressed people want to get the hell away from you. Dark, negative vibes can be contagious and people don’t want any part of that. Only your real friends will stick around. Potential lovers will want nothing to do with you.
It’s a nasty a quick-sand, blackhole that can compound and get out of control fast.
There’s good news. The most effective antidepressant known to man is free and widely available to the majority of the world: the sun. And if you’re one of the unfortunate who don’t have regular access to the sun, humans have artificially developed and extracted the benefits of sun exposure for you. In this article I’ll go over the studies and research that have found sunshine, vitamin D, and bright light to be miraculously effective for treating depression. But first
A Bit About Me
What prompted me to obsessively research the effect of sunshine on human health was a near-suicidal depression I suffered four years ago. I had never felt this bad before and have not ever felt this bad since. It was the heaviest, longest, constant feeling of dread I had ever experienced. I would sleep fourteen hours straight and then require two hour naps throughout the day. It was debilitating.
I found myself having suicidal thoughts. It was happening slowly. I was slowly becoming obsessed with designing a “good” suicide. I was finding my mind constantly drifting toward thinking about how to kill myself in a way that would produce minimal inconvience for other people. I didn’t want to create a mess for my landlord. If you use a gun, it better be big, I thought. Because I might survive a small round and live the rest of my life a severely brain-damaged vegetable. I didn’t want to set a bad example for my younger brother and I knew it would completely destroy my parents and girlfriend.
Ultimately, I went and lived with my parents for about a month. I knew if I was around them I would not kill myself. I didn’t explain why I was there, but they knew something was seriously wrong with me.
What caused the depression was some very nasty back-to-back career and business failures combined with severe burnout from working myself to death to prevent these failures. I completely, 100% pushed myself the farthest I could to a point of physical, mental, and psychological collapse.
And there was another component to this depression – I was severely sunshine-deficient.
A year of full-time, over-time indoor computer work had deprived me of sun exposure. I was always inside a building doing skype calls, phone calls, and computer work. I was indoors for the entirety of the vitamin D window everyday for a year. I was not supplementing with vitamin D, I did not know about bright light therapy, and I was completely oblivious and ignorant of how essential to our health sunlight is.
This darkest period of my life was also occurring during winter, when the sun is weakest and least available, so there was also a very large element of seasonal affective disorder (another sun-deficiency disorder). I was 25 at the time and seasonal affective disorder strangely tends to start affecting people in their mid-twenties. Once you already know you have seasonal affective disorder, it’s much easier to deal with, but if you’re unaware of and unprepared it can turn your life upside down. Not fun. Very scary.
I was starting to really get interested in the sun because I could feel myself increasingly craving it. I wanted to be outside so bad. I would look out the window on a sunny day and fantasize about going outside and taking all my clothes off.
There have been studies finding when reptiles are vitamin D-deficient they will sunbathe much longer compared to when they have good vitamin D levels. This must have been what I was experiencing. This desire to be outside and naked was my body screaming at me to prevent a health catastrophe.
Eventually this desire became so strong that I ended up quitting, with no notice, first thing in the morning one day. I remember it well. I was driving into the office and it was a beautiful day. By now the depression and burnout had become unbearable and my desire to be outside had become uncontrollable. As I pulled into the parking lot, I made the decision. I sat at my desk for a few minutes and put together my words I would use, I found my boss, pulled him aside, looked him in the eye, and told him I’m done.
I raced home, high as a kite, not a worry in the world that I was now unemployed with no income, and you know the first thing I did?
I put on a bathing suit, grabbed a book, went to the closest park, and just read and sunbathed the rest of the day. It felt orgasmic. Better than any drug I’ve ever tried. Nothing compares. When you’re biologically, severely sun-deficient and you get a mega dose it feels unbelievable.
You know what I did the next day? Same thing. Next day? Same thing.
Sun exposure has actually been found to trigger the release of opioid-like feel-good endorphins. I was experiencing such an intense, overwhelming, glowing, tingly feeling from the UV irradiating me that it completely silenced my mind. The force of the sun on me was intensely physical. My mind would calm, my heart rate would drop, my breathing would slow down and deepen, and my mood would brighten.
Eventually I was starting to look like a dark-skinned hispanic and the terrifying reality of my professional situation was starting to set in. I was effectively healing myself with sunshine, but it was too little too late and I would have to charge through this severe depression, unprepared and unwell, and start rebuilding my shattered professional life.
I started building this website. For nine months I worked myself to death getting NudeSpots going. I had no web development background. After learning how essential sunshine is to human health, I became committed to devoting a large portion of my life to educating people about it’s importance and helping them get as much sunshine as they can. I had enough savings to get me by a little while and I was able to scrounge up enough money doing side work to allow me to devote a full nine months to the site.
To stretch out my money, I started walking everywhere most of the time rather than driving. I lived off of cheap eggs. I kept my calorie intake to the bare minimum for health. I spent basically zero dollars on pleasure for that entire year. I worked all day every day until I would start getting computer-vision-syndrome, then I would take a few days off and let my eyes normalize, then plunge myself right back into the website.
Everyday though, I was sure to get some sun exposure. I would go out at the peak of the vitamin D window (noonish), wearing only a bathing suit, and spend a few hours out in the sun or until I got a little pink. I would read about search engines, web development, business books, workout, do yoga, go on bike rides – didn’t matter. I just needed something productive to do while getting my sunshine. That was the priority.
Eventually I climbed out of the depression a much stronger, more resilient, more mature person than I was before. I have not suffered such a depression since, but I have certainly been challenged since then and I believe my depression survival strategy I developed for myself has been responsible for getting me through these challenges with my sanity intact.
If there’s one thing we know with certainty, it’s that adversity, challenges, downturns, tragedies, and suffering are lurking around random corners in our future. Life is a minefield of suffering. The more aware of this you are, the more careful and cautious you are, and the more you strengthen yourself, the fewer landmines you’ll step on and the less injury you’ll suffer when you do. So immunize yourself with the NudeSpots Depression Survival Guide and don’t let life be harder than it needs to be.
Let’s look at some studies
I know depression is an extremely complex biological and psychological ailment, but we never hear about vitamin D, bright light, and sunshine as medicine. We only hear about pharmaceutical antidepressants and psychiatry. Why? Probably because those treatments are lucrative for the providers and sunshine is free and not lucrative. What makes money gets marketed.
I got a biiiig list of studies here regarding vitamin D, bright light, and depression. Let’s dig in.
Vitamin D Randomized Control Trials
Randomized control trials are the gold standard of scientific studies. Take a group of participants, control the variables, do a baseline measurement, randomly assign half the group to receive the treatment, assign the other half to receive a placebo, don’t tell anyone which one they’re getting, do your follow up measurements, and compare the data.
This one here took 169 pregnant mothers in their third trimester, randomly assigned half to receive 2,000 IU vitamin D per day for the rest of their pregnancy and two months after birth, had the rest of the group take a placebo, and evaluated the women for depression before and after the study. Results? Those taking the 2,000 IU vitamin D daily (a small dose btw) had lower postpartum depression scores compared to the placebo group.
In this study, 441 obese participants were enrolled into a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial testing the effectiveness of vitamin D for depression. Subjects were given either 20,000 IU vitamin D weekly for one year, 40,000 IU weekly for one year, or placebo weekly for one year. At the end of the study those in the vitamin D groups exhibited improved depression scores, but the placebo group did not. Those with lower vitamin D levels were also found to have worse depression scores compared to those with higher vitamin D levels.
Bright Light Therapy Randomized Control Trial
Now this one is truly amazing. Bright light was found to be superior to the pharmaceutical antidepressant imipramine for treating depression. 34 adult in-patients suffering from non-seasonal major depressive order were split into three groups to compare the 3-week treatment effectiveness of the following: A) bright light therapy combined with the antidepressant drug imipramine, B) bright light therapy combined with a placebo, and C) imipramine combined with placebo light therapy. All three groups enjoyed significant improvement, but, AMAZINGLY, just bright light therapy alone (B) was found to be superior to just imipramine (C), as well as the combination of imipramine/bright light (A).
More Vitamin D Studies
87 clinically depressed patients were observed for one year. They had a staggeringly low average vitamin D level of 12 ng/ml, with *85%* being clinically deficient.
This depression and vitamin study observing 615 young adults found that those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to report depression symptoms compared to those with the highest vitamin D levels.
59 suicide attempters were enrolled in a study and evaluated for vitamin D status along with non-suicidal depressed people and non-depressed healthy control subjects. 58% of the suicide attempters were clinically deficient in vitamin D and had lower levels than than the non-suicidal depressed subjects and non-depressed, healthy control subjects.
Study of 3,570 Korean adults found that those reporting having depression symptoms had lower vitamin D levels compared to those who did not report any depression.
1,786 Japanese workers were evaluated for vitamin D levels and depression. 92% of subjects had inadequate vitamin D levels. Researchers found that those with lower vitamin D levels had higher rates of depression than workers with higher vitamin D levels.
Longitudinal study of 12,594 participants found that those with lower vitamin D levels had higher rates of depression.
A study of 1,282 Dutch elderly people found that those who reported having minor and major depression had lower vitamin D levels compared to the rest of the participants.
A study of 80 older adults found that 58% had inadequate vitamin D levels and those with lower levels had worse scores on depression and cognitive function tests.
To test the effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation for depression treatment, 940 adolescent girls were given 50,000 IU of vitamin D weekly for 9 straight weeks. At the end of the study researchers found that there was a significant reduction in the depression scores of the group.
In this one, 46 women suffering from type 2 diabetes and significant depression were given a weekly dose of 50,000 IU vitamin D2 for 6 months. The patients experienced a significant reduction in depression and anxiety.
In this one, 48 vitamin D-deficient Swedish teenagers being treated for depression were put on a vitamin D supplementation regimen for 3 months. At the end of the study there was a significant improvement in their scores for depression , irritability, tiredness, mood swings, sleep problems, fatigue, inability to concentrate, and pain.
More Bright Light Studies
A study of 101 healthy men found that their serotonin levels were lowest during winter, when there’s less sunlight, but “rose rapidly” as the amount of bright sunlight increased.
This study found that subjects who underwent a UVA irradiation (sunlight is mostly UVA) session twice a week for three weeks tested as having higher serotonin levels and lower melatonin levels compared to a control group. The UVA-irradiated group also reported feeling “significantly more balanced, less nervous, more strengthened, and more satisfied with their appearance.” So although you can’t get vitamin D from UVA (you need UVB), this study demonstrates that there are still health benefits of UVA exposure and bright light and that it’s not a bad idea to enjoy a full-spectrum balance of sunlight.
A psychiatric clinic noticed over a period of time that their depressed patients staying in the brighter, sunnier hospital rooms recovered faster than patients staying in dully lit rooms. They looked over their records and realized that the depressed patients in sunny rooms stayed 16.9 days, whereas the depressed patients staying in the dully lit rooms stayed 19.5 days. The patients in the sunny rooms were inadvertently receiving bright light therapy, which has been proven to be an effective treatment for depression.
While I don’t claim that depression is only a matter of vitamin D and bright light exposure, vitamin D and bright light, or SUNSHINE rather, are obviously and undeniably extremely significant factors in depression and should be a key component in everybody’s depression survival strategy. This aspect of peoples’ lifestyles SHOULD be evaluated and dealt with BEFORE the prescribing of pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Depression Survival Guide – This is what you do
Get Outside. Get Sunshine. Every. Single. Day.
If you’re depressed or prone to getting depressed from time to time, then, considering the above studies, you have to make sure your lifestyle includes lots of sunshine. It needs to be a part of your daily life. You need bright light exposure to your eyeballs for the serotonin release and you need mid-day sun exposure to your naked skin for vitamin D production. Whatever you can manage. Park far away from your office and enjoy a walk in the sun. Take your lunch break outside. Read a book outside instead of watching TV indoors. Replace indoor video games with outdoor recreation. Go outside and talk to your neighbors instead of using social media. Walk or bike instead of drive. As long as you’re not getting sunburned, MORE IS BETTER.
Get outside when the sun is STRONGER
Try to especially get outside when the sun is STRONGER, because this is when vitamin D production is possible. You need a UV index of at least *3* to make any vitamin D. A higher UV index will allow you to make more vitamin D faster. For most of America, this is roughly 10am – 2pm during the spring and summer. In South Florida you can make vitamin D during the summer from 9:30am to 5:30pm and in the winter it’s still possible from 11am to 2pm on a clear day in Miami. I use the UV forecaster at WillyWeather.com to plan my outside time. I try to only be outside when the UV index is above 3, as that provides the biggest health benefit. As long as you don’t get sunburned, MORE IS BETTER.
Be as naked as possible as often as possible
That’s why the website is called NudeSpots. Clothing, and even sunscreen, prevent your body from synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight. You have to be as naked as you reasonably can. Biologically, fully nude is objectively ideal. More exposed surface area = more vitamin D. But getting down to just a bathing suit is also great. Wear shorter shorts. Wear tank tops instead of t-shirts. Go shirtless when doing yard work. Read here for more on the physical health benefits of nudism.
Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.
Exercise has been found to be as effective for treating depression as pharmaceutical antidepressants, but without any of the negative side effects (increased suicide risk, loss of libido, nasty withdrawal symptoms). Before ANYBODY is prescribed pharmaceutical antidepressants, the fitness side of their life, just like vitamin D and sun exposure, should be evaluated and fixed FIRST. Exercise is safe, exercise is free, exercise is available at all times, there’s a million different ways to do it, it has a million positive side effects, and, again, JUST AS EFFECTIVE for depression treatment as antidepressant drugs. Vitamin D has been found to be effective for treating depression. Bright light has been found to be effective for treating depression. So… if you exercise outdoors in the sunshine, naked, or mostly naked, then that sounds like a pretty damn good antidepressant.
Windows. Windows. Windows.
When you are indoors, try to get AS MUCH sunshine coming in as you possibly can. Open the window blinds and curtains. Set up your desk near a window. Make sure when selecting a house or apartment to live in that it has a lot of windows. Just the sight of a windowless apartment makes me want to kill myself. Even better, try to get a place with a sunny balcony or patio that you can sunbathe on. And raise plants on. Caring for plants improves mental health.
Try to wake and sleep with the sun as much as possible
Nobody is nocturnal, no matter how many people claim otherwise. Our biology is evolved around the sun. When the sun rises our brains squirt out serotonin, when the sun sets our brains squirt out melatonin. Try to maintain a consistent sleep and wake schedule that maximizes your access to sunshine. You want to be getting out of bed about roughly the same time as sunrise and going to bed soon after dark. If you’re staying up way too late and then sleeping in until mid-day you’re losing out on half of your sunshine for the day. If you’re going through life with only 50% of the sunshine, you can reasonably expect your mood to be 50% worse.
Makes friends with the beach
It’s the ultimate sun exposure spot. You get sun from above and then you get sun from BELOW as it reflects off the white sand. If you get too hot, cool off in the ocean. You can stay there all day long provided you stay hydrated and don’t get sunburned. If you live reasonably close to the beach, take advantage of it. If you don’t, then make your vacations beach vacations. Or consider moving to a beach.
Be Prepared to Make Radical Changes
If your current job is making it impossible to get sun exposure, like a graveyard shift or job where it’s impossible to ever go outside, then you may have to get a new job or change your schedule. That’s what I did. I went from doing office computer work to doing construction work. Best decision I ever made. I went from barely ever being outside to spending the majority of my waking life outside. I took a pay cut, but the positive effect switching to outdoor work had on my brain chemistry was well worth it.
If you’re in a part of the world that barely gets any sunshine, then you might need to move.
When the sun is unavailable
Even here in Florida we get cloudy weeks. During winter, Florida sun is only ⅓ the strength it is in the summer and the vitamin D window (when the UV index is strong enough to make vitamin D) is only ⅓ as long.
Sometimes life gets in the way and you can’t go outside hardly at all.
During these times, go artificial. Take vitamin D supplements and I highly, highly, highly recommend having a little bright light therapy device in the house. I also travel with one. They’re just too damn cheap to not have and, while not as effective as real sunshine, they really do help during cloudy times. Consider these your depression survival B plan.
And get your vitamin D levels tested. It’s very cheap nowadays and doesn’t require a doctor visit. You can buy a test kit off of Amazon and do it at your best convenience. You want to have a level of at least 50 ng/ml. If you don’t, then you need to increase supplementation or sun exposure.