You’ve probably heard that exposure to sunlight increases your vitamin D production, which can do wonders for your mood, your energy, and your bones. But recent studies have confirmed an added benefit: starting the day by enjoying some sunshine can improve your sleep.
The Circadian Rhythm
In order to understand how light affects your body, let’s do a quick refresher on the processes associated with our sleep-wake cycle, namely our circadian rhythm. When sunlight hits your skin, not only does it trigger vitamin D production, but it also inhibits the release of a hormone called melatonin which puts us to sleep.
At the same time, it also boosts serotonin levels which improves your mood and energy. When the night falls, melatonin production begins and serotonin dissipates, causing you to feel more relaxed and eventually causing you to fall asleep. In other words, sunlight sets our internal clock and helps our bodies and minds function as they should.
How Sunlight Affects Your Sleep
Getting enough high-quality sleep is crucial for our wellbeing. One way to achieve that is by basking in the morning sunlight to maintain a consistent sleep pattern. In a 2017 study published in Sleep Health, researchers examined the effects of light exposure in the sleep and mood of office workers. They found that those who were exposed to sunlight during the day enjoyed better sleep at night and had reduced symptoms of stress and depression compared to those who were getting little to no sunlight.
However, according to a more recent study, the effects of light on the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle depends on the timing of light exposure. Morning sunlight was found to induce sleep earlier in the day, improve its quality and duration, and even provide an antidepressant effect. On the contrary, evening and night exposure to artificial light can delay sleep onset, given that the blue light emitted by electronics increases the level of alertness.
This explains why you might feel sluggish and struggle to get started with your day if you spend your morning cooped up indoors and away from any source of natural light. This is especially the case in wintertime when sun rays are hard to come by and many experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light therapy is one way to help combat the symptoms.
So, although the sun can give you wrinkles, in the long run, you shouldn’t avoid it entirely (just don’t forget to put on sunscreen!). Sitting on your balcony every morning for breakfast, walking your dog, or stepping out to go get a coffee can significantly boost your health and make things that come at the end of the day—like unwinding after work and getting good sleep—easier. Even 15 minutes will do the trick and, if you don’t have that much time to spare all at once, multiple sunlight breaks throughout the morning and early afternoon will suffice.