How light exposure helps you sleep
Did you know that exposing your eyes to morning sunlight can significantly improve your sleep health as well as give you a feeling of being more energized in the morning? Let’s explore the far-reaching effects of light on our sleep health, and how you can create simple habits and routines around letting in the right light at the right time.
More than anything else, our exposure to light rules our day-night cycle, also known as our circadian rhythm. Your body’s circadian rhythms affect hormone profiles, metabolism, and much more. It’s all part of a special system that keeps your body in sync with the 24-hour day. While it doesn’t operate exactly on a 24-hour schedule, the circadian rhythm is the closest thing we have to an “internal clock,” something that exists to regulate our cycles of being awake and asleep.
Thanks to light exposure, this special rhythm sends signals throughout the day and night that it’s time for certain activities to occur, like the release of hormones, the digestive process, the regulation of our body temperature, when we feel awake and alert, and when it’s time to go to sleep. One medical study found that disruptions in typical circadian functions caused significant spikes in blood pressure as well as other health issues.
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Intentional exposure to light can also be helpful for those who may be dealing with insomnia. Of the estimated 100 million Americans thought to have a sleep disorder, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with about 30% of adults reporting acute insomnia at some point in their life and 10% reporting chronic insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or a combination of both. Now that you’ve learned all the different ways intentionally timed natural sunlight exposure can improve your sleep health, you may be wondering how to let that light into your life. Let’s explore some options.
Technology helps us wake up via alarm clocks and smart phones, but opening the shades in your bedroom every morning can play a significant role as well. Get into the habit of opening your blinds when you get out of bed and let natural sunlight flood your room. The sooner you can do it, the better, but don’t wait more than an hour to let that sunlight into your home.
Sunlight filtered through a window pane is helpful, but there’s also something even better: actually going outside. The best way to get natural sunlight exposure is to head out and go for a walk, allowing your eyes be exposed to light first-hand for at least half an hour. Don’t wear a sun visor or sunglasses, but do apply sunscreen if you are concerned about sun damage to your skin.
While taking a dedicated walk is the best way to receive morning sun exposure, you can also find other ways to incorporate this practice into your morning routine. This could mean sitting on the patio while reading the news, enjoying your cup of coffee out on your stoop, walking your kid to the bus stop, or walking for part or all of your morning commute. The main thing to be aware of is that the light is hitting your eyes directly to set off those triggers that activate your circadian rhythm.
Due to the time of year or the part of the country that you may live in, frequent, reliable sunshine exposure isn’t always guaranteed. In this instance, artificial light boxes and special lamps can help replicate natural light. The cost of a light box varies from around $50 to several hundred dollars. Light boxes can cost up to several hundred dollars.
Changes to your sleep quality usually don’t happen overnight, but keeping a regular schedule with a consistent wake-up time along with sunlight exposure as part of your morning routine can be a very helpful combination to gain greater control of your sleep patterns and health.
Tom Goff is the Co-founder and CTO of Beddr. Prior to Beddr, he was a founding member of numerous health tech and medical device startups including Shockwave Medical and Kerberos Proximal Solutions and holds over 40 patents. Tom studied Product Design at Stanford University and is an active StartX alumni mentor.