Serotonin (a.k.a. The Happiness Hormone): What it is & Why it's Essential to Your Happiness
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by Shelby Darling
Sometimes a bad mood can come right out of the blue. We’re going about our business, moving through our days, and sadness creeps in seemingly for no reason.
If you can’t blame a bad day at work or a gloomy story on the news, then your brain chemicals are the likely culprits for your less-than-sunny outlook.
But what exactly are those brain chemicals that can turn a good mood into a bad one at a moment’s notice? It’s actually one specific brain chemical, serotonin, and a deficiency can do a lot more than affect your perspective. It can also impact our eating habits, cause depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, and, when tied to melatonin, it can disturb our sleep patterns.
Luckily, there’s an efficient way to boost serotonin—light therapy, something that can be harnessed through exposure to the sun and HappyLight® therapy lamps.
Here, we’ll clue you in on what serotonin is all about, and how you can increase it, creating even more positive vibes in your life.
What is serotonin?
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According to WebMD, “Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical that helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another.” The information goes on to explain that serotonin is made through a unique biochemical conversation process that begins with tryptophan.
Cells that make serotonin use tryptophan hydroxylase, a chemical reactor which, when combined with tryptophan, forms 5-hydroxytryptamine, otherwise known as serotonin.
Serotonin is essential when it comes to optimal brain function. The article also shares, “As a neurotransmitter, serotonin helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another. Because of the widespread distribution of its cells, it is believed to influence a variety of psychological and other body functions. Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual desire, and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.”
To learn even more about the scientific process of serotonin production, read Emily Deans, M.D.’s article, Sunlight, Sugar, and Serotonin on Psychology Today.
How does light increase serotonin?
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So, yes, serotonin does affect a lot more than mood. In fact, not enough of it can wreak havoc on our thoughts, how we live our lives, and our overall health and well-being.
As humans, we are intrinsically tied to the sun, and we have been since the beginning. Perhaps the Egyptians were on to something when they began worshipping the sun. Much like plants, our bodies are dependent upon exposure to the sun. According to an infographic shared on Lifehack.org, 20 minutes a day outside in good weather boosts positive mood, broadens thinking, and improves working memory.
Much like soaking up rays, light therapy that emulates the sun can also be extremely effective in boosting serotonin. As we say here on the Verilux site, “Sunlight is an essential ingredient for a healthy lifestyle, but many of us don't get the amount of bright light we need to experience its benefits. Light therapy lamps like the HappyLight bring daylight indoors by emitting a bright white, full spectrum light that safely mimics sunlight.” Much like going outside, even just 20 minutes in front of your light therapy lamp can noticeably improve mood and other health aspects.
What happens when serotonin is too low?
As it states in the article “8 Serotonin Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself” on University Health News Daily, there are marked signs of serotonin deficiency: depression, craving sweets and starches, insomnia, feelings of low self-esteem, panic attacks, aggressive behavior, and a host of other disorders that include fibromyalgia, migraines, and TMJ.
When is the best time to soak up that serotonin-boosting light?
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To combat those health woes, light therapy, whether you’re outside or sitting in front of a Verilux light therapy lamp, is a must. But, when is the ideal time to experience the brain-boosting benefits of light?
Experts say that morning is the best portion of the day to engage in light therapy. In the TIME article “Why Sunlight Is So Good For You,” Dr. Norman Rosenthal, an expert on SAD and light therapy, describes the power of light.
Rosenthal found that while not everyone is as strongly affected by a lack of sunlight, for the people who are, light boxes that blast a few minutes of bright light in the frequency of natural sunlight each morning can help to elevate mood and re-energize them to face the day.
An added bonus of utilizing light therapy in the morning is that it pushes off melatonin production to the evening, which can produce a better night’s sleep. Melatonin is the main hormone that controls sleep/wake cycles.
As it says in the Sleep Review piece “Light Therapy for Better Sleep,”
The effects of light on the circadian system vary over the course of the 24-hour day. Morning light, given after the trough of core body temperature that typically occurs in the second half of the night, will advance the timing of sleep in the following cycle, while evening light, given prior to the trough of core body temperature, will delay the timing of sleep.
What’s the lesson here? From sleep to lifted moods, light is a crucial piece of the puzzle if you’re striving for an even healthier life, and yet, it’s something that doesn’t often immediately spring to people’s minds. Nutritious foods, exercise, supplements? Those are the ones we customarily think of. But if we include light therapy as a part of our healthy routines, our physical and mental well-being will thank us for it.
Want to learn more about our light therapy lamps?
* Serotonin: 9 Questions and Answers
Colette Bouchez - https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/serotonin#1
* Sunlight, Sugar, and Serotonin
Emily Deans, M.D. - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201105/sunlight-sugar-and-serotonin
* The Scientific Facts of Happiness You Never Knew
Charnita Fance - http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/the-science-happiness.html
* 8 Serotonin Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself
*TIME Guide to Happiness
Alice Park - http://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4888327/why-sunlight-is-so-good-for-you/
* Light Therapy for Better Sleep
PhD Figueiro - http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2015/05/light-therapy-better-sleep/
Also in Light Reading
I didn’t realize my mood was effected as the days got darker - it was my husband Scott who mentioned Winter Blues to me. At first, I was insulted that he thought I was that bad and then denial totally kicked in, thinking you’re insane that’s not me. I didn’t realize how much my mood would shift and the miserable mama I would be. Once he mentioned it to me, I started paying closer attention and doing some research and I realized he was right.