Overcoming The Challenges
If you work in an office and are not outside (or possibly not even near a window) for a good part of the day, then time your breaks strategically to get outside (or at least near a window) for 10-15 minutes in the morning. You could also leave a bit earlier, so you can incorporate a walk outside for some part of your journey to work. Even 10-15 minutes will have benefits.
This may be particularly challenging in winter, when it is even more important to get some sun, so get out there even when it is a bit chilly and overcast so that your eyes and skin are getting exposed to daylight, because this still helps to balance the hormones of your circadian cycle and signal to your body when to feel sleepy and when to wake up.
Sit outside as much as you can, even if it’s a small courtyard or balcony. While getting sunshine through a window is still great for sleep benefits, excessive time in harsh sunlight does have a slight added risk of too much UVA exposure, as only the shorter wavelength (vitamin D producing) UVB rays are filtered by the glass5,7.
Sunglasses can block the natural sunlight from reaching your optical receptors and potentially reduce the sleep benefits of the sun, so keep them off if possible. As an aside, if your sunglasses don’t have proper UV protection, they can potentially cause more damage to the eye than not wearing anything at all in bright light5.
If all else fails and you really can’t get outdoors, then there are other hacks using artificial lighting such as bright halogen or infrared lights, or wearing blue blockers at night8., but it is the natural daylight that helps to synchronise your circadian rythm.
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Your sleep cycle, or circadian timing system is heavily impacted by the amount of sunlight you receive during the day 4,5,12,. This circadian system helps to control your digestion, immune system, blood pressure, appetite and mental energy 5
In a very basic nutshell, sunlight to the optical receptors signals nerves in the hypothalamus (the master gland of your body’s hormonal system) to produce serotonin and cortisol, which generally give you more energy and tell your body to wake up and be alert 5. Towards the evening these hormones decrease and, as it becomes darker, the production of melatonin increases 4 to help you sleep. So, too little light exposure in the day or too much artificial light exposure in the evening will negatively impact your ability to sleep well at night 5.
Unfortunately, typical indoor lighting is 100 times less bright than outdoor light on a sunny day (and 10 times less bright than a cloudy day), so if you’re not getting outside enough in the day, you’re probably getting too little light exposure. Office workers with more natural light exposure tend to be more physically active and happier and have an overall higher quality of life 13.
- Awesome Ted Talk by Matt Walker about sleep
- Study on the Effects of Red and Blue Lights on Circadian Variations in Cortisol, Alpha Amylase, and Melatonin
- Sleep Smarter, 21 Essential Strategies to sleep your way to a better body, health and success
Shawn Stevenson, published by Hay House 2016
- Study into the benefits of sunlight
- A great and balanced article from Dr Mark Sisson on sun exposure through glass
- Superhuman, The Bulletproof Plan to Age Backward and Maybe Even Live Forever
Dave Apsrey, published by Harper Collins 2019, pgs. 82 – 89
- Study suggesting that sunlight may be effective in reducing obesity and metabolic syndrome
- Article suggesting moderate sunlight exposure is better than none in terms of UV damage
- Review by Examine on a study on the effect of Vitamin D Supplement on the quality of sleep
- Research study into Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood
- Study showing office workers with more natural light to be more active and happier https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031400/
- Reduction of melatonin from screens at night
- This is an unrelated article, but if you scroll to the end, there is a cool graph showing the cortisol release cycle