On the 21st June the Summer Solstice is finally here. Stemming from the Latin term meaning ‘sun stood still’, the Summer Solstice refers to the day when the sun reaches celestial longitude 90°, and the sun’s position in the sky reaches its northernmost or southernmost extremes, resulting in the longest day and shortest night of the year.
The Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice are the first two solar terminologies in human history, and their impact on ancient civilizations was hugely significant. As long ago as eight thousand years, humans were gathering together during the Solstices to celebrate the different phases of nature: birth, life, death and then rebirth once more.
Even today, a time when humans do not rely on the sun for their light source, the Summer Solstice is celebrated around the world in many different cultures. So what it is about the Summer Solstice that makes it so important? What effect does it have on our health and wellbeing? And what steps can we take to maximise our health this summer?
Summer Solstice image courtesy of Taro Taylor
As the Earth continues its orbit around the sun, the days become shorter and the nights longer, and it is these seasonal changes in light that can have incredibly significant effect on humans, animals and plants. Within humans, our internal body clocks can be influenced by the movement of the sun and it’s not uncommon to experience changes in both energy levels and emotional balance.
The most convincing evidence of human seasonality is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which causes people to suffer depressive periods due to the dark mornings and long nights. People suffering from SAD have variances in their melatonin production, a hormone which regulates sleep; melatonin is secreted for longer periods during winter nights than in summer nights. General depression levels also decrease with the upsurge of daylight, so it’s apparent just how significant the Summer Solstice effects can be.
Considering all the above, what steps should we take during the summer months to ensure we are as healthy as possible?
The downside to this period is that the longer daylight hours reduce the amount of sleep we get. Research has suggested that it’s not unusual to lose an hour of sleep every night during summer, and the efficiency of the sleep we do get is also often diminished. It’s advisable to go to bed as early as you can, despite the light evenings, and if you do feel the quality of your sleep is affected, a siesta in the afternoon is always a good idea. The brain depends on enough sleep to restore itself and function properly, so the importance of this cannot be over-emphasised!
During the summer months, you should try to make the most of the lighter evenings and warmer weather by getting outside as much as possible. Not only does sunshine significantly enhance our mood but it also makes exercising a lot easier – and far more enjoyable. Regular exercise is directly linked to mental well-being, so aside from the physical benefits of being active, your mind will also reap the rewards.
It’s also a lot easier to eat well during the summer months too, with lots of healthy and delicious fruits and vegetables in season and the desire for heavy comfort-food significantly lessened. Like exercise, a good diet is also hugely beneficial for your mental wellbeing as well as your physical.
Regardless of exercise, it is vital to ensure you’re getting enough fluids during the summer months too – and of course this becomes even more essential if you are doing exercise. You should remember that by the time you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated, so don’t wait until you are thirsty to get a drink! Significant amounts of water can be lost during perspiration during high heat and temperatures, so aim to be upping your fluid intake as often as you can.
If you take all the above into account, there’s no reason why this summer should not be your healthiest and happiest yet.