There are a lot of positive things you can do at the start of your day - hydrate, eat a healthy breakfast, meditate, for example - but something as small as getting outside and viewing sunlight might have a bigger positive effect than everything else combined.
Morning light exposure is vital for keeping your biological clock, or circadian rhythm, correctly tuned. This leads to higher energy levels, better sleep, improved physical and mental performance, and greater all-around wellness.
Read on and we’ll explain how this works, and introduce some ideas for morning (and evening) routines you can use to get the right amount of light exposure at the right times.
What is the Biological Clock?
Our biological clock, or circadian rhythm, is our body’s natural internal mechanism that governs how the body operates at different times of the day.
Most people’s energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. You might feel fresh and energetic in the morning, and then sleepy at night.
This isn’t a coincidence. It’s your body producing different chemicals, or hormones, at different times of the day, depending on what your body needs - whether it needs to be active or to slow down and rest.
The biological clock works on a 24-hour cycle, going through both sleep and wake cycles every 24 hours.
How Does the Circadian Rhythm Impact Health and Wellness?
The circadian rhythm dictates when certain hormones and chemicals are released, as well as how certain bodily functions work.
For example, we naturally release melatonin at night, which helps us feel sleepy. We also produce higher levels of growth hormone, which helps the body repair and rebuild itself, which is part of the reason we feel fresh and energized after a good night’s sleep.
On the other end, hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are produced at higher levels in the morning, making us more energized.
In addition, things like body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure fluctuate throughout the day - dropping at night, when we’re asleep, and rising during the day.
Health consequences of disruptions to circadian rhythm include a greater risk of sleep disorders, obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
How Light Viewing Affects Your Biological Clock
Remember we said that the 24-hour internal clock isn’t a coincidence? That’s because it’s been fine-tuned over thousands of years of evolution to fit the rising and falling of the sun.
We’re built to be awake and active when the sun is up, and to go to sleep when the sun goes down.
For the body to know that, it needs to be exposed to sunlight. For our ancestors, who lived outside, this was simple. But in today’s society, we spend a lot of time inside, and don’t always get light exposure that matches the patterns of the sun.
If you don’t view enough light during the day, or you view a lot of artificial lights at night, it can trick your circadian rhythm, and cause your biological clock to misfire.
Why is it Important to Have a Consistent Sleep-Wake Cycle?
We tune our biological clock to match the time we go to sleep and the time we wake up. When we start messing with those times, it’s hard for the clock to keep up.
Jet lag is a perfect example of how the circadian rhythm is tuned to going to bed and waking up at specific times.
With jet lag, you’re forced to adjust to a different time zone. Your circadian rhythm, however, is still set in the previous time zone, and it takes some time for it to readjust.
The feelings of fatigue, tiredness, and brain fog you get from jet lag are symptoms of your circadian rhythm being out of sync. You’re not producing the optimal hormones at the right times.
Now imagine you’re going to bed and waking up at different times every day. You’re causing the same kind of disruption to your circadian rhythm, and as a result, you’re likely to feel a lot of the same symptoms as you do with jet lag.
How Will I Feel Better if I View Light in the Morning?
Morning light exposure should help you achieve higher energy levels and heightened focus. When you signal to the body that it should be in its wake cycle, you’ll produce hormones that help you wake up and produce more energy.
You’ll also sleep better as a result of getting early morning light exposure. That’s because the sleep and wake phases of your 24-hour cycle work in tandem with each other. When you set the wake phase correctly, your sleep phase will kick in at the right time.
When this happens, you’ll find it easier to get to sleep, and achieve deeper and more restful sleep.
Does it Have to Be Natural Light?
Certain artificial lights can mimic natural light. However, exposure to these types of artificial light will never be as powerful as natural sunlight.
As well as getting exposure to natural light, you should ensure the light is not filtered in any way, such as by sunglasses or windows. So it’s best to go outside to get your light exposure.
What About the Winter When it's Not Sunny?
The good news is that you don’t need to view bright sunlight to maintain an optimal circadian rhythm.
According to Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, natural light on cloudy or even overcast days will do the trick.
Here’s a general guideline for how long to view sunlight in the morning:
- Sunny days - 10 minutes
- Cloudy days - 20 minutes
- Very overcast days - 30 minutes
If you live in a location with very minimal light for extended periods, then you can consider an artificial daytime light simulator source.
- Do not look directly at sunlight or very bright lights (don’t do anything that is uncomfortable to your eyes).
- Do not wear sunglasses because it’s vital that the light directly hits your eyes.
- Contact lenses and regular glasses are fine.
When to Avoid Too Much Light?
The same way light exposure is beneficial in the morning, it can be detrimental at night.
Light exposure at night, close to the time we go to sleep, can trick the body into thinking it’s still daytime. This interferes with the timing of our circadian rhythm, and the release of sleep-inducing hormones.
Within 1-2 hours of going to bed, you should try and limit any bright, overhead lights. Dim the lights if you can, or try to use lights that are off to the side, rather than directly overhead.
The light spectrum from electronic devices, such as phones and computers, can also cause issues with sleep and circadian rhythm, when viewed late at night.
Ideas for How to Get Morning Light
It’s best to set up a routine to help you get light exposure every morning. Pair it with an activity you enjoy, or that you need to do every day.
- Walk the dog
- Go for a run/jog
- Go for a walk and listen to a podcast
- Drink coffee/tea on your balcony/porch
These things make it easier to ensure you always get enough morning light, as opposed to just going outside and standing in the sunlight for 10 minutes.
Building a Positive Evening Routine
Your evening routine is just as important. A positive routine will make it easier to get to sleep, helping you get more restful sleep, and make it easier to stick to your routine in the morning as well.
Stay off electronic devices for around 1-2 hours before you plan to go to sleep, and try to gradually reduce the amount of light in your home as it gets closer to bedtime.
Add more things to your routine that reduce stress hormones like cortisol, and help you relax. Mediation, for example.
Additionally, adaptogen supplements like our recovery mushroom supplement are great for promoting physical and mental recovery, and helping you achieve a state of calm.
What Else Can I Do for an Optimal Sleep-Wake Cycle?
A lot of other activities alter the type of hormones we produce and release. If we keep changing the time that these hormones are produced, it can confuse our circadian rhythm.
These activities include exercising and eating. The more you can maintain a consistent schedule for when you work out or eat meals, the more finely-tuned your biological clock will be.
As well as consistency, try to avoid these activities closer to bedtime, as they tend to stimulate stress hormones and increase blood pressure, which can interfere with sleep.
Our body’s internal clock is powerful. It changes how it operates at different times of the day, to provide bursts of energy and focus when we need it, or to calm us down and help us get to sleep.
But we need to give certain inputs to keep our biological clock running correctly. We can help that by getting morning light exposure first thing in the day.
Start following a regular routine for getting outside for 15-30 minutes per day, every morning, and you’ll notice huge benefits to your sleep quality, as well as your energy levels and focus throughout the day.