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Let In Some Light

When thinking about the benefits of being out in the sun, it is easy to jump right to vitamin D production as the leading benefit. While being out in the sun does help our bodies produce vitamin D, there are a slew of other benefits that humans get when we step out for a little bit of sunlight every day. 

I doubt anyone reading this article wakes up at sunrise, heads to bed shortly after sunset, and spends most of their day outside. If that is you, great job! You’re killing it and are already reaping all of these benefits. However, if you are like the majority of humans living in 2021, you most likely spend about 90% of your life indoors and have a sleep schedule that doesn’t align closely with the sun. Linda Geddes, a journalist out of Bristol who specializes in biology, technology, and medicine, has studied the effects of sunlight on society for many years. In one TEDx talk she gave in Bristol, she focused on the effect artificial light has had on our lives. She speaks in depth about how the cells in our eyes react to light exposure and communicate with our brains. Each cell in our body has a circadian rhythm that helps keep us all on a natural clock. In a society where it can be exceptionally bright all day, it is very important for our circadian rhythms that our daily light exposure is monitored. Geddes talks about the benefits of being exposed to bright light within an hour of waking up and limiting bright light for the two hours leading up to bed. Having a morning filled with bright, preferably natural, light will make it easier for your body to fall asleep in the evening. She stresses the importance of natural light since even on an overcast winter day, it will be about 25 times brighter outside than in your home. On a sunny summer day, it can be up to 500 times brighter outside. Waking up and being exposed to bright light earlier in the day can shift the body’s release of melatonin earlier in the evening by one and half to two hours. This shift in melatonin will help you go to sleep at a more reasonable hour every night. 

However, it is pivotal that you listen to the sleepiness you feel when that melatonin starts being produced. Say goodbye to your devices, dim the lights, and turn in for the night even if that means possibly waking up a bit earlier the next day. If possible, keep the light in your environment very warm and dim in the evening, specifically two hours before you plan on going to bed. This limited light exposure will help those cells in your eyes sync up with their circadian rhythm and know that it is night time. Nathaniel Mead with the National Center for Biotechnology Information, talks about how increased exposure to natural light leads to an increase in serotonin production which can directly help insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Serotonin is normally produced during the day, or during the time when our eyes are receiving the most light. Serotonin is then converted into melatonin at night. Mead discusses how “SAD has been linked with low serotonin levels during the day as well as with a phase delay in nighttime melatonin production”. This hormone production is all linked to the light our eyes are receiving in order to perceive when it is night, when it is day, and how long both of those phases last. 

If you work indoors, try to find time to get direct sunlight every day, specifically in the morning if possible. Eat your breakfast by a bright window. Find a break in your day to leave the house or office and spend some time walking around the block. As the weather warms up, spend as much time as your schedule will allow outside and find at least 10-15 minutes where you can be outside without sunglasses on to help your circadian rhythm and hormone production (Mead). Your body, mind, and relationships will thank you for it. 

 

Sources

 

Geddes, L. (2020, February 14). What Quitting Artificial Light Taught Me About Sleep.

TEDxBristol, Bristol, U.K. https://youtu.be/G0Z6_RjLz_4

 

Mead, N. (2008, April). Benefits of sunlight: A bright spot for human health. Retrieved April 02, 2021,

from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/

 

Salk Institute. (2019, December 5). Three types of cells help the brain tell day from night: Salk

researchers identify light-sensitive cells in humans that appear to help establish healthy

day-night cycles. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2021 from

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191205141726.htm

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