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Sunlight ‘could be highly effective’ in Long COVID recovery



Natural daylight could be a “highly effective” treatment in supporting recovery from Long COVID, having shown benefit in people living with other debilitating conditions.

With cases of the post-COVID syndrome rising continually, uncertainty persists around the best way to treat and support people with the condition due to the developing knowledge and lack of data on the topic.

But sunlight could play a significant role in supporting people in their recovery, says psychologist and sleep specialist Dr David Lee. 

“One of the core symptoms of Long COVID is fatigue, and natural daylight could be a potential intervention,” says Dr Lee, clinical director of Sleep Unlimited, who has been teaching, researching and disseminating findings from his own research into sleep and the psychobehavioural treatment of insomnia for over 15 years.

“Through getting outdoors there is a kind of triple whammy effect of exposure to natural daylight: increasing Vitamin D and promoting the production of melatonin which helps with sleep initiation and maintenance, while also promoting serotonin production which makes you feel happier and collectively gives a boost to the immune response.

“As a potential treatment, getting outdoors could be a highly effective intervention. This is my hypothesis, there’s no data yet as it’s too soon, but we do see a general benefit to people’s sleep with exposure to natural daylight.”

The lack of exposure to natural daylight for many people during the lockdowns has potentially amplified the effects of Long COVID, as well as impacting negatively on the mental health of countless others, says Dr Lee.

“This is something which affects all of us, and a big factor is that people have been stuck indoors and not able to get out has limited their exposure to daylight – but now that lockdown is releasing and summer has arrived, hopefully this will lead to some benefit,” says Dr Lee, author of the book ‘Teaching the World to Sleep’.

“Post-pandemic, we are expecting a rise in people living with symptoms of Long COVID including symptoms of fatigue and poor mental health. We’re starting to see this even now. 

“But by getting outdoors, which is straightforward, free of charge and probably only a couple of metres away from where someone is sitting in their house, is very achievable.

“Some therapies can be expensive, complicated and a challenge for many to comply with, but by doing something much more straightforward, we find this can help make progress, by boosting energy levels, reducing fatigue and improving motivation to engage with other health service provision.”

Through Sleep Unlimited Ltd., which has become the UK’s biggest company of sleep experts since its foundation in 2003, Dr Lee and his team work with teams of healthcare professionals, as well as patients directly, to support those living with neurological injuries and associated conditions to improve their lives through the effective management of sleep problems.

“We’ve worked with people for years in terms of managing their sleep, and the use of daylight in our toolkit has been there all the time, it’s nothing new – but in terms of Long COVID, which of course is new, I do think it could have great benefit,” says Dr Lee. 

“If you’re not getting exposure to natural daylight, then you’re more likely to remain indoors, and we do see that kind of behaviour in the more vulnerable groups – we know that people with MS, ME, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and brain injury are more likely to do this, and that compounds the problem. There are mood consequences, they’re less motivated, and we need to break that cycle.

“If we can encourage clients to get outdoors a bit more, then this can be an effective intervention for their sleep, their mood and their immune functioning. We work with the wider treatment teams to encourage them to hold exercise sessions in the park rather than a gym for example, and to ask questions around identifying things that clients can do outside instead of indoors. We’re always trying to box-clever and find opportunities to do what clients would do anyway, but to do this stuff outside. 

“We are really interested to find out whether this approach works in relation to managing the debilitating symptoms of Long COVID, we hope that people try getting outdoors more and let us know – feedback is really important for us so that we can provide the best help and advice to support people as effectively as we can.”