Using Sunlight to Help You Sleep
Podcasts are awesome. If you have to commute or like to go on walks alone, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways to keep yourself entertained and even, occasionally, learn something new. Myles may have mentioned a new podcast he has been listening to lately called the Huberman Lab. The host is Andrew Huberman and he is an American neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He is pretty bright and does a lot of research so we feel confident listening to his podcast and believing what he says is based soundly in science and research.
He hosted a podcast on the importance of light exposure and using sunlight to help set your circadian rhythm. Given that I am not an auditory learner, I will do my best to summarize this podcast for you in less "sciency" language. (Reading an article and summarizing it is 1000 times easier for me personally).
The basis of the podcast is when and how to use sunlight (or different kinds of non-natural light) to best anchor your sleep and wake cycles. These are simple and powerful tools to help you get better, sounder sleep. All it takes is a little bit of light exposure at the right times of day.
Here are some of the main takeaways.
Inside all of us is a clock (circadian rhythm) that determines when we want to be awake and when we want to be sleepy.
Try to get exposure to natural bright light as soon as you wake up. This means go outside and look at the sunrise or if the sun has already risen spend a few minutes outside staring at the sky. This will set your clock for the day and anchor your wake/sleep cycle. Early exposure to light will help your body start raising cortisol levels and sets the timer for your internal clock to know that in 12-16 hours it should start releasing melatonin to start making you sleepy.
Timing of food intake and timing of exercise can help set this internal clock daily as well.
Viewing sunlight at sunset, allows your neurons to signal your circadian clock that it is the end of the day. So just like in the morning, go outside and watch the sunset or stare at the sky for 2-10 minutes in the hour around sunset. Also doing so can help protect your brain and body from some of the negative effects of light exposure later in the day (ie TV watching, computer/phone light, house lights) messing with your ability to fall asleep.
If you want to avoid improper activation of neurons that can shift your circadian clock later in the evening, keep lights low and turn off overhead fluorescent or bright lights after sunset.
Having your internal body know when it's morning and when it's evening is tremendously powerful for managing your circadian rhythm and the easiest way to manage this powerful tool is by viewing sunlight around sunrise in the morning and sunlight around sunset in the evening.
You can view the light through a window but you will need to spend more time light gazing if you are inside. Wearing sunglasses will also dampen the effect. Going outside is the best and fastest way to get the input into your cells.
Here is a link to the entire podcast in case you are interested in listening and learning more about this fascinating subject.