Natural Light

The role of exposure to natural light in regulating sleep-wake cycles.

Over billions of years, our bodies have evolved to synchronize with the natural rhythms of day and night. Our brains learned to associate blue light – the light of the sun and sky – with daytime, the time for activity and alertness. It responds to blue light by producing energizing, feel-good chemicals and hormones that power you through your day.

In contrast, it associates red light – the light of campfires or candles – with night-time, the time for sleep and recovery. It responds to red light by initiating a cascade of relaxing, sleep-inducing chemicals and hormones. These two spectra of light have served as signposts to our brains for hundreds of thousands of years, and when left undisrupted, this system functions excellently... The problem is that the technology of our modern environment disrupts this system constantly.

Blue Light

The blue light found in electronics like phones, laptops, and TVs is especially harmful to our circadian rhythm. Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, which is necessary for good sleep. The suppression of melatonin is so powerful that even a short exposure to blue light can disrupt sleep for the entire night. In addition, blue light exposure has been linked to other negative health effects, such as migraines, eye strain, and macular degeneration.

Red Light

Red light therapy has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration, especially for people with insomnia. It works by stimulating the production of melatonin, which is a natural hormone that helps to regulate sleep. Red light therapy is often used in the form of special lamps, but it can also be used through goggles or other devices.

Get outdoors

Spending time outside in the morning not only helps to reset your body's master clock, but it also provides other health benefits. For example:

Improved mood

Natural light exposure has been shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which can help to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.

Increased physical activity

When you spend time outside, you're more likely to engage in physical activity, such as walking or jogging. This can help to improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Better sleep quality

In addition to helping to anchor your circadian rhythm, exposure to natural light can also improve the overall quality of your sleep. This is because natural light exposure during the day helps to regulate your body's production of melatonin, which is a key hormone involved in sleep.

Reduced stress

Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, which is a hormone associated with stress. This can help to promote relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety.

Action steps

  1. Make it a habit to spend at least 20-30 minutes outside in the morning every day.
  2. If you can't get outside, try to sit near a window where you can get some natural light exposure.
  3. Consider incorporating outdoor activities, such as walking or gardening, into your daily routine.
  4. If you live in an area with limited access to nature, try to find a park or green space that you can visit regularly.
  5. Remember to protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen or a hat, especially during peak sun hours.

A Note about Vitamin D

Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It is an essential nutrient that plays a role in a wide range of bodily functions, including bone health, immune function, and mood regulation. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, especially those who don't spend much time outside. If you are struggling with sleep and don't spend much time outside, consider having your vitamin D levels checked by a healthcare professional. If your levels are low, your doctor may recommend vitamin D supplementation or increased sun exposure. It's important to note that too much vitamin D can be toxic, so it's important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.