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A splash of morning sunlight
Core - Nº22
They say the best things in life are free, and that’s certainly the case for enjoying the benefits of heading outside and soaking in the morning sunlight.
Living in the UK made me very aware of how important it is to get natural vitamin D when possible. Most people are considered deficient in this country, and that’s why catching the morning sunlight is regarded as one of the top five actions to support our mental and physical health and performance. According to neuroscientist and professor Dr Andrew Huberman, they are:
I took on his advice to view morning sunlight first thing in the morning this year as one of my goals. It increases “early-day cortisol release” and prepares the body for sleep later. Even now, I’m surprised at how early we can, and sometimes must, get ready for sleep later in the day.
Morning sunlight sets you up for the day
Morning spikes in cortisol (which plays a powerful part in regulating our energy, focus and immune system function) positively impact our immune system, metabolism, and ability to focus. From there, we can also use sunlight to regulate our circadian clock, which helps us better anticipate our sleep/wake cycle.
We’re naturally hardwired to be in sync with the sun. Our body increases melatonin production when the sun sets and reduces that production when the sun rises. People tend to dismiss going outside as a “luxury”, putting it off to instead work longer hours or watch TV or focus on something else. However, if you’re reading this, chances are you have plenty of time to commit a few minutes daily to go outside.
Rain or shine. Since the start of this year, I made a habit of waking up and going straight for a 15-minute walk before work. It can be for as little as five minutes, though I couldn’t help but wonder for a little longer. And so far, 88% of the days this year have included a short walk.
Being outside like this is a great time to exercise and stretch, eat breakfast or journal. And yes, those overcast days are still worthwhile because there’s usually enough sunlight to gain benefits from—you just need to increase the time outside to 15-20 minutes or more. If it’s dark or miserable outside, switch your bright lights on and go when the sun is shining later. Windows and windshields won’t provide what you need due to the wavelengths being filtered out. And the same goes for using sunglasses or blue blockers when you’re outside.
Afternoon sunlight to set you up for sleep
During the morning until midafternoon, luminous overhead lights and a good level of ambient lighting at your desk space will improve the release of crucial hormones and maximise your alertness and focus. Once the afternoon starts to set, follow its rhythm and dim your work environment in the same way: reduce your exposure to blue light and replace bright overhead lights with lamps and softer lighting.
Those blue lights dangerously impede melatonin production and can make your health suffer over time. It’s crucial to avoid artificial sources such as your phone or TV screens between sleep times (i.e., 10pm to 4am). According to Dr Samer Hatter, a senior investigator and chief of the section on Light and Circadian Rhythms at the National Institutes of Mental Health, blue light is great for improving your mood, energy, appetite and dopamine release in the morning. But it can provoke feelings of depression and anxiety if it is allowed to disrupt your sleep.
As well as viewing sunlight, exposing it to your skin has powerful benefits: skin exposure to afternoon sun for around 30 minutes can increase your testosterone, estrogen, mood and libido. 2-3x per week is a perfect starting point.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
You probably know about Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), which happens to many people in winter or cold climates. When sun exposure is minimal, it can be easy to feel tired, low mood, or depressed.
If the condition is more severe, this won’t completely replace treatment from a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. But you can expect to feel better from more morning sunshine or blue light in winter.