sunshine makes me smile!
When I was little I visited some incredible caves in central Italy – the Grotte di Frasassi. I was a bit of a nervous child, and walking down into the dark through a huge tunnel carved out of solid rock was pretty scary. I was happier when the caverns opened up inside, into a space bigger than St Paul’s cathedral and filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
The thing I remember most clearly is a scary story the guide told us, about a group of monks who had become hopelessly lost inside the caves. They tried to trace their way back out by running their hands along the walls of the passages in the rock, but after days and days they still hadn’t escaped, and their fingers had worn down to the bone. Luckily I wasn’t quite little enough to believe this, but I still felt very relieved when we walked out into the sunshine again.
You certainly don’t have to go underground to feel the mood-enhancing effects of sunshine. January in London is a pretty dismal month, especially if you’re getting up when it’s still dark. So a few sunny days in the past couple of weeks have really cheered me up – I can almost feel the corners of my mouth twitching when the sun comes out.
This isn’t just about my mood. The bright light is affecting my brain directly, through special cells in my retina. The cells send signals to an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and from here signals travel on to the pineal gland. This tiny gland secretes melatonin, the hormone that controls the body’s rhythms, regulating everything from the activity of enzymes in the liver to processes in the brain. (more…)