How Sunlight Can Help You Sleep
You may not think that a lack of sunlight would be one of all the causes of insomnia and other sleep deprivation conditions, but you'd be wrong. Sunlight has as much impact on our sleep cycles as diet, exercise, and stress. It helps regulate our body's natural circadian rhythm and helps maintain the healthy production of necessary chemicals in the brain.
So before you lock yourself indoors and order those blackout curtains for the living room, here are a few key things you should know about how sunlight can help you sleep better.
Sunlight Regulates Circadian Rhythm
You may be familiar with this term, but you might be a bit fuzzy on the definition. When people talk about the circadian rhythm, they often refer to one half of the cycle, which is sleep. However, the circadian rhythm is the entire 24-hour cycle of waking, alertness, and sleeping.
Let's suppose you wake up naturally around 7 o'clock in the morning. You get and go about your day, whether that's work, taking care of the family, or just having a relaxing day at home. You'll notice that you're alert for the large part of the day. You continue to be alert for six or seven hours. You may feel some dips in your energy levels around 2:30 pm, but this is actually when your coordination and reflexes are at their prime. By the time sunset occurs, usually between 5 pm and 7 pm depending on where you live, your body begins to relax and prepares itself for sleep.
If you fall asleep between 8 pm and 10 pm, your body temperature will decrease. Your heart rate and blood pressure will lower, and you'll achieve the deepest level of sleep between midnight and 2 am. Then, your body temperature will rise before you wake at 7 am, and the cycle continues.
Okay, so we have a rough idea of what a natural circadian rhythm cycle should look like. So how does sunlight help maintain this cycle?
Serotonin and Melatonin Work Together
When UV light from sun rays passes through the retina, it triggers the production of serotonin in the brain. When this occurs, the body begins to feel relaxed, calm, and satisfied. This is because serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps produce feelings of general well-being, acting as a mood stabilizer.
When serotonin levels increase, it helps melatonin levels increase later in the day. Melatonin is the chemical responsible for inducing sleep. Darker light prompts the brain to release melatonin throughout the body, but if the body isn't relaxed, it becomes more difficult for the brain to release melatonin as effectively. Serotonin from sunlight primes the body for the release of melatonin during the night.
While sunlight may have its harmful effects, it has its health benefits too. So instead of putting up dark curtains in the living room, keep the curtains drawn and the windows beaming with sunlight. Be sure to get in 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight every day. Improve your sleep with the power of sunlight and get a well-deserved night's rest.