How Sunlight Can Help You Sleep
You probably know that stress and anxiety can be causes of insomnia — but lack of sunlight? Isn't sunlight what wakes you up, not what makes you sleep?
But actually, sunlight has as much impact on our sleep cycles as diet, exercise, and stress. Getting exposure to sunlight helps regulate our body's natural circadian rhythm and maintain the healthy production of necessary chemicals in the brain.
So while you're ordering blackout curtains for your bedroom and subscribing to that sleep meditation app, make sure you also pencil in some time to get some sun — it's the secret MVP of fighting insomnia.
Sunlight Regulates Circadian Rhythm
When people talk about the concept of circadian rhythms, they are often just referring to how they govern our ability to sleep soundly through the night. However, the circadian rhythm is actually a series of responses to darkness and light that govern the entire 24-hour cycle of waking, alertness, and sleeping. It's what makes your body feel alert while the sun's out, and what slowly brings on a feeling of tiredness and sleepiness after the sun sets.
Though our bodies have "internal clocks," not everyone's internal clock lines up exactly with standard sleeping and waking cycles. Some of our internal clocks may be wired to stay up later and sleep later than is possible for us. Getting exposure to sunlight during the day helps your body feel awake and alert at the appropriate time, preventing it from becoming awake and alert later in the day instead.
Sunlight exposure also helps our brains produce serotonin, one of the brain's feel-good chemicals. Having higher serotonin levels in the morning helps your levels of melatonin — a hormone which induces sleep — increase later in the day.
How Much Sun Do You Need?
Studies have shown that about 30 minutes of sun exposure daily can improve circadian rhythms. Make sure to take proper precautions during your sun exposure, such as wearing adequate sunscreen, even in the winter, and try to get your sun earlier in the day, ideally an hour or so after waking, when it will have the greatest impact.