Few nurses were probably surprised by the latest study linking natural sunlight to better moods.

But this summer’s study in the Health Environments Research and Design Journal looked specifically at nurses and how the ever-changing shift work they do impacts the sunshine they receive.

It might sound funny – the last thing you are worried about when heading into your third day of a straight 12-hour shift schedule is sunshine. Sleep is probably tops as are household duties, family time, and just managing to get everything done.

But the study, The Impact of Windows and Daylight on Acute-Care Nurses’ Physiological, Psychological, and Behavioral Health, raises important points for nurses who work in sometimes windowless environments or on shifts that disrupt their access to sunlight. Researchers suggested that even something as simple as spending time near a window could help you reap the benefits of the sun.

And what benefits does the sun give? Yes, it regulates a traditional sleep/wake pattern, but few nurses actually have jobs that allow that kind of pattern consistently. According to the study, sunlight improves mood, alertness, and performance. And nurses who had better access to sunlight laughed more overall, showing not only mood benefits, but the resulting bonuses of lower blood pressure as well.

And while suggesting natural light fixtures in nurses stations or time to spend near a window is ideal, it’s not always realistic or possible.

Why should you really worry about getting a few rays of sunshine? In short, it can make you healthier by warding off depression, increasing your alertness, and helping your sleep. Healthier and happier always sounds good and while the sun isn’t a cure-all, it can’t hurt to make the effort to get more of it in your daily routine.

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How can you fit more sunshine into your erratic schedule?

You can try to get outside more often in the daylight. But for you to really make it happen, you have to be realistic. Don’t aim for walking five miles before your night shift starts if you can’t stick to it or wouldn’t like it (although it’s a great solution!). Choose small fixes – a short walk if you can’t do a longer one, coffee by a sunny window, or even just sitting in a sunny car for a few extra minutes while running a couple of errands can get you going. When you are at work, if you get a break during daylight hours try to get outside or at least stand near a window – the sunnier the better. If you can get a natural light source in your work area, you might find that helps as well.

However you find more sunshine, it will likely help you. Just being aware of it is a good start, and you might find it makes you happier, healthier, and less worn out by the shifts that interrupt your natural sleep rhythms.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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