Benefits of Natural Sunlight in Darker Times
As daylight savings time is underway and the darkness falls over us so early in the day, we must remember the importance of sunlight since there is so little of this time of year. Specifically, morning sunlight can be beneficial in many ways according to recent research. 20 minutes of sunlight, minimum, can improve sleep quality, mood, health and fitness.
According to Jacob Liberman, O.D., Ph.D, when natural light enters the eye, the pituitary gland within the brain is activated. Natural light is a “time of day” stimulant which tells the gland to begin producing hormones in the body. Bright morning light tells your body to suppress melatonin (a hormone that helps you sleep) and increases a hormone called serotonin. The serotonin will be processed by the body to create new melatonin which will help you sleep better at night. By exposing your body to natural morning light, it will produce the raw materials the body needs for productive sleep patterns. Your body loves rhythm and routine, and natural light can direct these hormones to be produced and processed efficiently to improve your sleep.
While serotonin is commonly known as a sleep aid, it has also been shown to increase mood throughout the day. Seasonal depression is something many people go through this time of year. However, even if it is a cloudy or overcast day outside, there is still more natural “lux” light than with indoor lighting. Rainy or winter days will still produce lux levels of 1,000 or more, which is far greater than any inside light will produce. By getting outside in the morning for natural light, will not only help you sleep better later in the day but will increase your mood during the day as well!
If improving your sleep and being in a better mood does not convince you to increase your natural light consumption, it also has been linked to improvements in your overall fitness. A 2014 study from Northwestern University demonstrated that people with earlier natural light exposure had a lower BMI (body mass index) and overall, weighed less than people with consistent natural light exposure. The study controlled all other non-light exposure factors such as food intake, sleep and activity levels. In addition to earlier outdoor lighting, it promotes higher activity levels in people who get outside more often.
Your sleep quality, fitness and mood/mental health are all vital to your overall health and wellness, and improving your overall health and wellness can be as easy as 20 minutes every morning absorbing natural light.