I started exposing myself to morning light to improve my sleep.Here's why you should too

Having worked in the health and wellness industry for some time, I often assume I know everything there is to know about how to stay healthy. So when I realized that I didn't know how to help myself and was drowning in anxiety, I knew I had to turn to a professional who could show me another way to manage stress.

If you've ever dealt with anxiety, you know how negatively it can affect your sleep. Personally, I have no problems falling asleep. My challenge is to stay asleep. I often wake up in the middle of the night and think about all the things I need to do. I've been doing all the “right” things to deal with my anxiety, including cutting down on coffee intake, breathing consciously, meditating, and eating a balanced diet. Although small improvements were seen, the results were short-lived. To find natural treatments for anxiety, we spoke to Andrea Micheo, a certified holistic health coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Sunset walk on the beach in Puerto Rico

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For our first in-person consultation, we walked along the beach at sunset. I gave her an overview of my girlfriend's day and gave me some practical tips to start regulating her cortisol (also known as stress hormone) levels. My first challenge was to get some sunlight first thing in the morning.

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Effects of morning sunlight on circadian rhythms

Good sleep is essential for our health. One of the often overlooked factors in achieving quality sleep is exposure to sunlight in the morning. Exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning has many benefits, including boosting your mood and improving the quality of your sleep. But how? That's a great question. So let's get down to business.

We can't talk about improving morning sunlight or sleep hygiene without first addressing circadian rhythms. This is the body's 24-hour sleep and wake cycle. It naturally responds to light and darkness and determines when you're hungry, when you're sleepy, and when you wake up. Think of it like your body clock.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus) is a region of the brain that controls sleep-wake cycles. In the morning, when the eyes detect sunlight, the SCN triggers the release of cortisol, which helps the body wake up. Exposure to sunlight in the morning helps regulate your circadian rhythm, as light signals your body and brain that it's time to start the day. When the night gets dark, the SCN triggers the release of melatonin, which induces sleepiness.

“About a year ago, I started getting more sunlight first thing in the morning and at sunset to help regulate my circadian rhythm. Since then, I've stopped taking melatonin and started getting better quality sleep. '' Micheo said.

Day and night concept with a clock in the brain. Day and night concept with a clock in the brain.

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Our body clock is most sensitive to light during three specific times of the day:

  • during the first hour after waking up: When you are exposed to sunlight in the morning, your body begins to suppress the production of melatonin (sleep hormone).
  • Approximately 2 hours before bedtime: When it starts to get dark outside, your brain receives a signal that it's time to start relaxing and go to bed.
  • at night: Darkness keeps sending signals to our brain to keep us asleep.

You can take advantage of these three light phases to synchronize your circadian rhythms. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight not only improves your sleep quality, but also helps you fall asleep faster. “I always recommend this time-efficient and cost-effective action tool to all of my clients and continue to receive positive results and feedback,” he added.

read more: Circadian Rhythm: How to reset and sleep better

Sleep score data from the Oura Ring app. Sleep score data from the Oura Ring app.

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Data insights into sleep quality before and after morning sun exposure

I'm a good sleeper. Prioritize sleep and get enough quality sleep to wake up refreshed the next day. Looking at the data on my boyfriend's Oura ring (a cool fitness tracker), my average sleep score is around 80 (which Oura rates as “good”). This is your sleep data from the night before, incorporating sunlight exposure into your morning routine.

As you can see, I got almost 8 hours of sleep, but I woke up more than usual (to rest) and it took me 28 minutes to fall asleep (10-20 minutes is normal for most adults) ). Ideal deep sleep time.

The only change I made to my morning routine was to take a short 30-minute walk outside after I woke up. I didn't wear sunglasses or a hat to expose my eyes to the first rays of the morning sun, but I did protect my skin with sunscreen. If you're going out in the late afternoon, we recommend wearing a hat, sunglasses, and using sunscreen.

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I didn't change anything about my daily routine or nighttime routine, but this is what I felt when I woke up in the morning.

The first thing I noticed was that I slept a full hour more and woke up less often during the night. They also spent more time in deep sleep, taking just 9 minutes to fall asleep.

Update your sleep score data from the Oura Ring app Update your sleep score data from the Oura Ring app

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Did something feel different? I felt a little more energetic, but I didn't notice any major changes. However, I was surprised to see such a huge difference in the quality of my sleep after just one day of exposure to the morning sun. The early results are pretty promising, so I plan on getting some sun most mornings to see if I see any significant improvement in the long run.

Information about morning solar therapy

Although there is no one correct way to get sunlight in the morning, the following general guidelines can help you maximize your time in the sun.

  • Go outside within the first hour of waking up. The body is most sensitive to light right after waking up, so it's best to expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning.
  • Try to spend at least 30 minutes in the sun. According to Harvard Medical School, the best amount of time to spend in light is 30 minutes.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen. Although UV rays in the morning are less harmful than during the day, it is still a good idea to protect yourself with sunscreen.
  • Please consult your doctor. Before trying morning light phototherapy, be sure to consult your health care professional to ensure it is safe for you.

Tips for getting more sunlight in the morning

Now that we've explained how morning sunlight can affect your sleep quality, let's take a look at how you can get more sunlight.

A woman opens the curtains to soak up the sunlight in the morning. A woman opens the curtains to soak up the sunlight in the morning.

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  • Rising with the sun: Waking up around sunrise makes a huge difference to your sleep. To help regulate your circadian rhythm, wake up early to soak up the first rays of sunlight.
  • Please open the curtains and blinds. One easy way to maximize natural light in your home is to open your blinds and curtains. This allows sunlight to give your body a natural wake-up signal.
  • Do outdoor activities in the morning: Whether it's a brisk walk or stretching on the patio, exposure to natural light and movement can help you wake up naturally.
  • Eating breakfast by the window: If you have limited time in the morning and can't find an extra 15 minutes to soak up some sunlight, try having your breakfast or coffee near a window.
  • Invest in a light therapy lamp. If you have limited access to natural sunlight or live in an area with cloudy skies, consider a light therapy device that mimics the spectrum of natural light.

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