How early light exposure affects sleep quality
If we do some math and calculations of how much time an average person sleeps and then what is the standard life expectancy, we will come to the conclusion that we roughly spend one third of our lifetime sleeping. This is a very long time. So let’s talk about sleep, since it is so important. We usually sleep without thinking if we are getting the most out of it.
Sleep is this incredible period of our life that we mainly go through while unconscious. Outside sensory experience, in most cases, it can’t really impact us and yet, sleep is tremendously important, because it resets our ability to be focused, alert and emotionally stable when we are awake. So we can’t really talk about wakefulness, without thinking about sleep, and vice versa.
Because, as it turns out, the two are tethered to one another. What we do when we are awake determines when we fall asleep, how quickly we do it, whether or not we stay asleep and how we feel when we wake up the following day. So today, we are going to try to find out how to get better at sleeping.
The most powerful thing that determines when you want to be asleep is sunlight. When you wake up in the morning, you do so because your body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is the hormone related to stress and, well, adrenaline is adrenaline. It is important that the cortisol release happens early in the day and comes in one impulse. Doing that, it sets a natural timer in your body, which in 12-14 hours is going to release another hormone that is called melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that makes us sleepy and lets us fall asleep. Getting this rhythm right is crucial for us.
When you first open your eyes in the morning, the best thing to do would be to get some rays of sunlight in your eyes, which is going to trigger the neurons in your brain to start the cycle. I said specifically sunlight, because our eyes are designed to react to natural light and specific colors that occur when the sun is low – blue and yellow lights. The ideal thing would be to go outside and absorb the necessary light. The only catch is that it has to be in a window of an hour to two hours after sunrise, so the angle of the light is correct and the sun is still low – a couple of minutes should do the trick, depending on how bright the day is.
It has positive effects on your blood pressure, mental health and vast health benefits in general – there are so many of them that it would take too much time to list them all. A professor at Stanford University, Dr. Jamie Zaitzer, a world expert on the topic, states that it is 50 times less effective if the light is absorbed through a window. So, viewing light early in the day, ideally sunlight, is key for establishing healthy sleep-wake rhythms and for allowing you to fall asleep at night.
Light is the primary thing that sets the rhythm, but there are also other things that help it work properly. Timing of food intake, timing of exercise or various medication or chemicals that one can ingest. Although they help, light is 1000 to 10000 times more effective than, for example, waking up in darkness and just starting exercising. The most effective thing would naturally be combining all the elements. Therefore, waking up earlier, getting some sunlight followed by exercising and having breakfast.
The same principle works with getting sunlight in the evening when the sun goes down. It will help protect these mechanisms, your brain and body against the negative effects of light later in the day, if you spend even 2 to 10 minutes sometime around sunset. All of this does wonders in treating anxiety and depression, as it helps you maintain a stable level of energy during the day, improves your attention and concentration, and keeps your heart healthy.
I know I said that I am not going to start mentioning them all, but I just wanted you to understand how important such a simple thing can be. Try it!
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