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Sleep 101
From Dawn to Dusk: Here’s Why Sunlight is Key to a Better Sleep Routine

Summer is finally here! Higher temperatures, vacations, beaches and, last but not least, longer days. Normally, when someone thinks of summer, they don’t like to think of sleep, and we really can’t blame them (if you want tips on how to dodge those sweaty nights, check our article here). But what if we told you that the summer was the absolute best moment of the year to improve your Sleep Routine?

Our bodies have a natural internal clock, also known as the Circadian Rhythm, which governs when we feel sleepy and when we are alert. This internal clock is influenced by various factors but, according to Nathaniel Watson, MD, Professor of Neurology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, sunlight is its biggest regulator.

Exposing yourself to natural light during the day (particularly in the morning) helps reset your internal clock and has been associated with longer and better sleep. How does this happen? The production of melatonin is heavily influenced by light exposure: it is typically low during the day and starts to increase in the evening as it gets darker, signaling to your body that it's time to sleep.

According to Mariana Figueiro, PhD, director of the Light and Health Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, exposure to natural light during the day helps regulate and optimize melatonin production. By “reminding” your body of its circadian rhythm, you are actively supporting it in timely melatonin production, and thus in better sleep quality.

Beside benefiting your physical health, sunlight exposure also has a profound impact on your mental well-being. Spending time outdoors and soaking up natural light has indeed been shown to boost your mood and reduce stress levels, which are critical factors for good sleep.

Moreover, according to a study on sleep-restricted adults published in the "International Journal of Endocrinology", light exposure modulates leptin and ghrelin, the hormones responsible for hunger and satiety. This hormonal balance also contributes to better mental health, making it easier to relax and fall asleep at night.

Furthermore, according to research in the "PLoS One", the timing and intensity of light exposure correlate with body weight, suggesting that getting enough natural light can also help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of sleep disorders.

 

Based on the above findings, here are 4 practical ways to incorporate more sunlight into your daily routine:

  1. Morning Walks: Start your day with a walk outside to get natural light exposure. Morning sunlight is particularly beneficial for resetting your circadian rhythm.
  2. Outdoor Activities: Engage in outdoor activities like gardening, jogging, or even reading a book on your patio. The more time you spend outside, the better. 
  3. Work Near Windows: If you work indoors, try to position your workspace near a window to get as much natural light as possible. An estimated 69.5% of the U.S. population suffers from Vitamin D deficiency, so it is essential that we find ways to incorporate sunlight into our day organically. Office workers who have optimized daylight and views tend to have better sleep duration and cognitive performance, according to research in the "International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health."
  4. Weekend Adventures: Use weekends to explore parks, beaches, or hiking trails. Not only will you get Sunlight, but you'll also enjoy the additional mental and physical health benefits of being in nature. Of all studies run on the benefits of outdoor activity on humans, between 66.7% and 100% showed health-denoting associations with increased green space exposure.

     

    In the summer, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere get on average about 6 hours of additional daylight (15 hours vs. 9 hours during winter); this additional exposure to sunlight is why the summer is such a great time to set your circadian clock back on track.

    When it comes to improving sleep, sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. Are you ready to unlock the sleep benefits of sunlight? Start incorporating these tips into your daily routine and experience the difference firsthand. Sweet dreams await!

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    References:

    • Figueiro, Mariana G et al. “The sleep maths: A strong correlation between more daytime light and better night-time sleep”. Lighting Research and Technology, 53(5), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1177/14771535211005832
    • Figueiro, Mariana G et al. “Light modulates leptin and ghrelin in sleep-restricted adults.” International journal of endocrinology, vol. 2012 (2012): 530726. doi:10.1155/2012/530726
    • Reid, Kathryn J et al. “Timing and intensity of light correlate with body weight in adults.” PloS one, vol. 9,4 e92251. 2 Apr. 2014, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092251
    • Boubekri, Mohamed et al. “The Impact of Optimized Daylight and Views on the Sleep Duration and Cognitive Performance of Office Workers.” International journal of environmental research and public health, vol. 17,9 3219. 6 May. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17093219
    • Marshall, Linda “Get Morning Light, Sleep Better at Night” WebMD Archives, 2022, https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/morning-light-better-sleep
    • Twohig-Bennett, Caoimhe, and Andy Jones. “The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes.” Environmental research vol. 166 (2018): 628-637. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2018.06.030
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