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Edition 49 - Viewing Early Sunlight and How It Can Change Your Life
So as you may be able to tell from my introductory edition last week, viewing early sunlight is a habit I have started to integrate into my life (some times more consistently than others, but I am on a pretty good run at the moment). Far beyond it just being a nice thing to do, there is a wealth of data behind this simple practice which not only suggests it has the capacity to improve our sleep quality and feelings of wellbeing, but that it may be the overwhelming deciding factor in how well we may or may not sleep on a given night.
How can that be possible? All my life I have always thought ‘well, if I exercise most days and I’m busy with work, I’ll be naturally tired come bed time and that will be that’, or ‘I’ve earned this lie-in at the weekend and I’m damn well gonna use it, so that come Monday I’m feeling fresh as a daisy’, or even worse ‘I love taking in a bit of Netflix before bed, it will help me fall asleep’. I could not have been more wrong!
What has been discovered is that you can exercise and stay busy all you like, it doesn’t guarantee you a good night’s sleep if you didn’t get the night before right, and you didn’t get the morning right. You can sleep in till 10/11am on the weekend, but guess what? You’ve just disrupted your circadian rhythm, and technically given yourself a ‘mini jet-lag’ for the next day. Oh and TV before bed/whilst falling asleep? Almost guaranteed to reduce sleep quality with all that blue light, even worse if you’re up on social media, taking in content that purposefully plays on your perspective of life and triggers certain emotions, whether desired ones or not.
So what do I mean specifically by ‘viewing early sunlight’? Because I am aware you may be thinking about the elephant in the room - we live in Britain where the weather is crap for 80% of the year! It’s dark in the morning between October and March (bloody daylight savings), so where are we supposed to be getting this magical sunlight from? Well, by lottery of birth, we are just the unlucky ones, and so to that end, us Brits need to be a bit more flexible than other nations to get the influx of light exposure we so desperately need.
I am fortunate enough to have a proactive and forward thinking wife, who also learned about the importance of early morning light, and went out of her way to buy a ‘SAD lamp’ (a quick google search will show you the many different types of lamps available on the market). This is an important tool for ensuring you get that light in your eyes early doors, because of course, there are all kinds of rules to this madness, including:
It must be at least 10 mins of bright sunlight on a clear day (don’t look directly at the sun)
If it’s a bit cloudy or overcast though, you need 20-30 mins
You can’t be wearing glasses, sunglasses, or looking from behind a window
A SAD lamp. For when the weather of Britain fails you miserably
So how does it all work, what’s the point of it, and why should YOU start getting your dose of early morning light, every day, from TODAY? My go-to for anything related to this topic is Dr. Andrew Huberman (IG: @hubermanlab or hubermanlab.com) and here are the main things you need to know:
We have some ‘non-negotiable’ hormones, and that means they are going to be released every 24hrs. You cannot prevent them from being released.
One of these hormones is Cortisol, known by many people as the ‘stress’ hormone. It has what is known as a catabolic effect, in other words, it breaks molecules and tissues down.
This is often seen as a negative thing (although it’s not all negative), and so cortisol gets a bad rap.
As mentioned, the release of cortisol is going to happen, all we can have any element of control over, is when we release it.
You want the release to occur early in the day. Reason being, if we have cortisol releases at random parts of the day or at night, this is when we experience the infamous ‘afternoon crash’ or a bad night’s sleep.
We can influence this early onset of cortisol by viewing early sunlight (I guess anything before around 9/10am). In the time frames mentioned above.
Blinking bright light into our eyes early in the day triggers the onset of the cortisol release, and ‘starts the clock’ on our circadian rhythm, giving our body the reference point it needs, allowing you to feel tired and ready to sleep at *just* the right time in the evening.
If we allow cortisol to be released sporadically throughout the day, it can be triggered by the outside environment rather than being under our control.
We also release dopamine and serotonin as non-negotiable hormones - these are crucial hormones in our sleep-wakefulness cycles.
Dopamine gives us a rush of good feelings. You’ll struggle to sleep through them.
Therefore, we can also use morning sunlight (or a SAD lamp) to trigger the dopamine release!
Bottom line - Dopamine and cortisol release throughout the day and in the evening negatively affects quality sleep. We are trying to shift those hormone releases to the start of our day, so we feel ready to sleep at the right time, and best place our body to sleep all the way through the night.
Some studies that might interest you about this topic:
1. The treatment of sleep onset insomnia with bright morning light
The study demonstrated that 1 week of bright morning light exposure can advance the melatonin onset and improve the sleep and daytime feelings of individuals with sleep onset insomnia whose circadian rhythm is relatively delayed.
2. Sleep improvement by light
These results suggest that morning bright light exposure provides a better environment for aged persons to maintain a regular sleep‐wake pattern.
3. Effect of short duration morning bright light in elderly men: Sleep structure
These findings indicate that a short duration of morning bright light changes sleep structure and is effective in maintaining sleep.
4. Effects of short duration morning bright light in healthy elderly. II:Sleep and motor activity
From these findings, even a short duration of morning bright light is effective in maintaining sleep without changing daytime activity.
5. Light therapy with boxes or glasses to counteract effects of acute sleep deprivation
Early morning light therapy in the condition of sleep loss may have broad practical applications to improve sleepiness, sustained attention and subsequent risk of accidents.
6. Recommendations for daytime, evening, and nighttime indoor light exposure to best support physiology, sleep, and wakefulness in healthy adults.
Research collated using consensus.app. Full references at the end of the newsletter.
“A day without sunshine is like… you know, night” - Steve Martin
Movement of the Week: Negative Pull Ups
3-5 sets of 5 slow descents
Recommendations for daytime, evening, and nighttime indoor light exposure to best support physiology, sleep, and wakefulness in healthy adults. Timothy M. Brown, George C. Brainard, Christian Cajochen, Charles A. Czeisler, John P. Hanifin, Steven W. Lockley, Robert J. Lucas, Mirjam Münch, John B. O’Hagan, Stuart N. Peirson, Luke L. A. Price, Till Roenneberg, Luc J. M. Schlangen, Debra J. Skene, Manuel Spitschan, Céline Vetter, Phyllis C. Zee, Kenneth P. Wright Jr.. Published in PLOS Biology, 2022.
The treatment of sleep onset insomnia with bright morning light. L. Lack, H. Wright, Damien Lee Paynter. Published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 2007.
Sleep improvement by light in a demented aged individual. Y. Okumoto, E. Koyama, H. Matsubara, T. Nakano, R. Nakamura. Published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 1998.
Effect of short duration morning bright light in elderly men: Sleep structure. M. Kohsaka, N. Fukuda, R. Kobayashi, H. Honma, S. Sakakibara, E. Koyama, T. Nakano, H. Matsubara. Published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 2000.
Effects of short duration morning bright light in healthy elderly. II : Sleep and motor activity. M. Kohsaka, N. Fukuda, R. Kobayashi, H. Honma, S. Sakakibara, E. Koyama, O. Nakano, H. Matsubara. Published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 1998.
Light therapy with boxes or glasses to counteract effects of acute sleep deprivation. H. Comtet, P. Geoffroy, M. Kobayashi Frisk, Jeffrey Hubbard, Ludivine Robin-Choteau, L. Calvel, Laurence Hugueny, A. Viola, P. Bourgin. Published in Scientific Reports, 2019.