The Relationship Between Sleep and Light
When was the last time you watched the sun rise?
Maybe you woke up early to collect shells on the beach and saw the sun ascend over the ocean. Or maybe you took a hike to a gorgeous viewpoint to experience the vastness of a new day blooming. Just imagining the sunrise brings about peace and awe. The pinks and blues and purples and yellows, all interacting to create a magnificent, sherbert-colored sight.
We all know how stunning a sparkling sunrise can be, but fewer of us know the true power that that very sunrise can have on our body, our health, and most importantly, our sleep.
Sleep to the Rhythm
Light plays a huge role in our ability to get good sleep – sleep that will reset our internal systems and power us through the next day. Sleep that doesn’t leave us sluggish and drowsy, but alert and energized. Our sleep is governed by a circadian force, rebooting every 24 hours. It helps to think of this force as our internal clock. Our body releases hormones that wake us up in the morning – cortisol – and make us sleepy at night – melatonin. This happens every day, just like clockwork. The relationship and rhythm between cortisol and melatonin, between waking and sleeping, is a delicate one. Studies have shown that when these rhythms get too out of whack, the bodily systems that keep us healthy and happy – cardiovascular, mental, emotional, and more – are negatively affected. On the other hand, when our sleep is aligned with our internal clocks, tick-tocking in tandem, we see so many positive effects, like less anxiety and depression for example. And light is what starts that clock each day.
The secret ingredient to your best sleep? Sunlight
But not just any light: real sunlight. The kind that warms your face and brightens your life. When we wake up, typically around sunrise or a few hours after it, the first thing we do is open our eyes. When light enters our eyes, neurons perceive this light, and an electrical signal is sent to the brain and then throughout the entire body to wake us up and get us going. Many credible peer-reviewed studies have shown that getting real sunlight into your eyes as close to waking up as you can is most optimal when it comes to keeping our hormones and internal clock operating at their smoothest. Sunlight that is low in the sky – sunrise or after, and before midday where the sun is high – is the best quality and amount of light for us, with its particular combination of blues and yellows. Simply going outside and viewing sunlight right when you wake can be the catalyst to better days and nights.
It’s also 50 (!) times less effective to view morning sunlight through a window, and it goes without saying that artificial light is not nearly as effective as the real thing either. If you live in a place where morning sunlight is few and far between, like Scandinavia, or is often cloudy, like Seattle, don’t fret. Just go outside in the morning for a bit longer, or invest in a sunlight simulator. Our bodies need the photons, ideally from the sun, to set our internal clocks for the day, no matter where we live.