Can morning sunlight exposure improve your sleep?
Is morning sunlight exposure part of your daily routine? If not, we highly recommend that you put some fun in the sun in your morning schedule.
You might already know that getting enough sunlight each day is important for your health, but did you know that the time of day you get sunlight exposure is important for sleep quality too? This is especially true when it comes to getting morning sun.
Going back to your ancestral routes and using sunlight to help determine your body’s natural clock could be one of the most impactful things you can do to improve sleep quality.
How does sunlight affect sleep?
Light exposure is actually one of the biggest factors influencing the quality of your sleep.
It helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which is your sleep-wake cycle. Spending time in the morning sun will help signal to your body that the day has arrived and time outside during sunset will help signal to your body that the new day is coming to a close.
As nature intended, you want light during the day and darkness at night for optimal sleep. But many people aren’t getting enough bright light exposure during the day. People are staying indoors a lot more, especially since the start of the pandemic, and if you do go to an office, you might work in a cubicle that doesn’t get a lot of light.
If you want to hack the system and get your body more in-line with the 24-hour light cycle, you can try to sync your light exposure to the light changes of the sun using light therapy.
What are the benefits of natural sunlight exposure in the mornings for sleep?
That first kiss of morning sunlight on your skin can feel really good. It is energising and can instantly brighten your day. But the benefits go beyond how good it makes you feel in the morning. Here are some benefits of morning sunlight exposure for promoting sleep:
It wakes you up
If your home is dark and you start your day in a dark environment, it can take you longer to wake up. When you are exposed to morning sunlight, you start producing less melatonin, which will make you feel more alert and less sleepy. Your melatonin production will then go up again later in the day when it is time to start preparing for sleep.
Vitamin D production
Your body uses the sun’s rays and cholesterol in your skin to make vitamin D. Deficiencies in this vitamin have been linked to sleep problems like insomnia and getting lower quality sleep. In people who have a deficiency, sleep might not be as restful or restorative.
If you don’t get enough sunlight exposure because you are constantly indoors and if there isn’t a lot of sun exposure where you live, you can supplement with vitamin D3. Foods that contain vitamin D are egg yolks, salmon, halibut, liver, cod liver oil and mushrooms.
Improved mental health
There is a very good reason why people with anxiety and depression are advised to get more sunlight. Adequate light exposure is crucial for your mental health. Getting sunlight exposure in the morning can increase serotonin production and make you feel less stressed and depressed. Sunlight exposure can also decrease cortisol levels, which can make you feel less anxious and jittery.
A lack of sunlight exposure can also cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is also referred to as seasonal depression. Many people who live in places where the winters can become brutal in the northern hemisphere get light therapy devices to prevent SAD.
Better energy management
Morning sunlight is blue light, which is very energising. It will help combat daytime fatigue, improve your alertness, improve your mood and increase your mental and physical performance, so you won’t have to drag yourself through the day or resort to caffeine to get through a meeting or workout.
Less pain keeping you up at night
The sun emits a full spectrum of light that consists of infrared radiation, UV radiation and visible light. The infrared wavelengths of natural sunlight can lower inflammation, speed up healing and reduce pain that can keep you up at night.
It can improve jet lag
If you have jet lag, getting sunlight exposure in the morning and putting on sunglasses or blue light blocking glasses in the evening can help your body adjust to the new time zone.
How much sunlight do you need in the morning?
How much sunlight you can get per day will depend on your skin type, where you live, what season you are in and how much skin you show. Too much sun can damage your skin and lead to a sunburn and potentially skin issues, like cancer, later down the line. Aim for 15 to 40 minutes of direct sunlight in the morning.
How to get the most out of your time in the sun
There are many ways to have fun in the sun in the mornings. You can have your morning coffee or tea outside in the garden and do your morning walk, yoga session, cycle or strength training session outside if possible.
Here are some more ideas:
Pair your morning sun session with exercise
If you want extra sleep-promoting benefits, pair your morning sunlight session with exercise. Exercising in the morning can help regulate your circadian rhythm.
Put your sunscreen on after your sun time
Do it before you put your sunscreen on. Sunscreen will block the UVA and UVB rays from penetrating your skin enough for you to reap the benefits of the light. You can put your sunscreen on after your morning coffee or yoga session in the garden, or after taking your dog for a walk.
Don’t use your sunglasses
Don’t put sunglasses on in the morning either, because your eyes want some sun too. You want the light to enter your retinas. There is a retinal mechanism that connects to your thalamus and then your hypothalamus, which regulates your biological clock.
Get into a morning sun schedule
The body loves routine. Getting sunlight exposure around the same time every morning will help your body get into a good sleep-wake cycle.
What to do if it is winter or cloudy?
Even if it is winter or the skies are cloudy, still try to go outside. The lux intensity of light on a cloudy day is still higher than what you would get from standard indoor lighting like incandescent lights.
You can also invest in a light therapy device. Bright blue lights in the morning will still help with your circadian rhythm, but you want to avoid blue lights at the end of the day and switch to warm lighting. Get a red light for in the evenings to signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep if you want the best effects.
If you want to improve your sleep, try to get as much sunlight as possible before noon. Getting more sunlight in the morning will help you produce more melatonin at night, and your body will also start producing melatonin sooner.
The sun will come out tomorrow, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if you started incorporating morning sunlight to your daily routine, your sleep quality will improve.