How to Get More Sunlight During the Day

A great night’s sleep begins the moment you wake up in the morning.

September 13, 2017
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Adapted from Sleep Smarter

A great night’s sleep begins the moment you wake up in the morning. Humans have evolved with a predictable pattern of light and darkness that has always controlled our sleep cycles. Your sleep cycle, or circadian timing system, is heavily impacted by the amount of sunlight you receive during the day.

More: The 5-Minute Yoga Sequence for Better Sleep

It may sound counterintuitive that getting more sunlight during the day can help you sleep better at night, but science has proven that this is precisely the case.

More: 5 Devices for a Better Night's Sleep

With shorter days and less sunlight upon us (friendly reminder to set your clocks back on November 5th!), check out Shawn Stevenson's tips from his book, Sleep Smarter for getting more light into your day, despite the time change.

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Sunlight Power Tip #1

When it comes to sleep benefits, all sunlight is not created equal. The body clock is most responsive to sunlight in the early morning, between 6:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Exposure to sunlight later is still beneficial but doesn’t provide the same benefit. Of course, this is going to vary depending on the time of the year, but make it a habit to get some sun exposure during that prime-time light period.

Getting direct sunlight outdoors for at least half an hour has been shown to produce the most benefit. During the winter months, it is not always feasible to get the sunlight directly on your skin. However, as you’ve learned, being able to take in natural light through your eyes is a part of the solution you can always utilize. Even on a cloudy day, your body will give you a favorable response.

More: 4 Sleep Supplements That Actually Work

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Sunlight Power Tip #2

If you are stuck in a cubical dungeon away from natural light at work, use your break time to strategically go and get some sun on your skin. Even on an overcast day, the sun’s rays will make their way through and positively influence your hormone function. You can take your 10-or 15-minute breaks outdoors or near a window, or if you’re really playing at a high level, you can make a habit of eating your lunch or having your meetings outside.

More: How ‘Vitamin G’ Secretly Impacts Your Sleep

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Sunlight Power Tip #3

Only getting sunlight on your skin through the filter of a window might not be the best idea for your health. The sun has a plethora of wavelengths that impact our bodies, but the two you most need to know about are UVA and UVB. UV stands for ultraviolet, and these sun rays have long been known to influence our physiology. UVB is the most valuable for human health, as it’s the only wavelength that triggers your body to produce vitamin D.

The problem is that UVA has a much longer wavelength than UVB, and it can penetrate through various materials more easily. UVA can move right through the ozone layer, clouds, pollution, and even glass without being filtered out very much. UVB can’t make its way through glass very effectively, and it’s critical to help balance out the potentially harmful aspects of UVA. It’s not that sunlight is inherently bad; it’s just the way that we interact with it that can be unhealthy.

We need both UVA and UVB, but unhealthy exposure to UVA is what predominantly increases the risk of skin cancer and photoaging of your skin. Getting plenty of natural light through windows during the day is a wonderful thing. Again, that light is being picked up by your optical receptors and sending information to your brain to optimize your circadian timing system. However, exposing yourself to long periods of sunlight directly on your skin through windows should probably be avoided just to be on the safe side.

Also, it’s valuable to note that during certain times of the year, depending on where you are in the world, UVB isn’t making its way to your body anyway. Generally, during the winter months, it’s going to be more challenging to get UVB for most or all of the day. But, again, it depends on where you live.

More: 50 Tricks to Sleep Better Tonight

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Sunlight Power Tip #4

If natural sunlight needs to make its way to your optical receptors for you to get the benefits you’ve learned about, then sunglasses can be like a 7-foot-tall NBA All-Star and block sunlight’s shot at getting to your eyes. Sunglasses inhibit the natural exposure of light you need to assure healthy hormonal secretions and healthy sleep. It’s really as simple as that. As a matter of fact, sunglasses with improper UV protection can be far worse than not wearing sunglasses at all. In bright sunlight, your eyes will naturally try to protect themselves from too much UV light getting in by shrinking the size of the pupils. But when you artificially create darkness over your eyes with standard sunglasses, your pupils open up wide and allow in even more potentially harmful UV light.

So try to avoid wearing shades in the sun just for the sake of fashion. If you’re going to wear them for temporary eye protection, then make sure that they are truly UV protective by checking with the manufacturer before buying. This can be especially important if you do any snow-based winter sports to help you avoid 'sunburn of the eye,' also known as photokeratitis. If your future’s so bright you have to wear shades, I get it. Just find a healthy way to keep it in balance.

More: How the Big 'O' Impacts Your Sleep

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Sunlight Power Tip #5

In emergency situations, where you are chained like a prisoner in the cubical dungeon, there are specially designed light boxes, visors, and other gadgets that simulate sunlight. These are often prescribed to treat seasonal affective  disorder (SAD), a form of depression that tends to occur during the darker winter months. You can find a list of the best phototherapy devices in the Sleep Smarter bonus resource guide as well.

These items are definitely a viable "hack" when you need it, but, remember, you are more powerful than you know to make healthy changes in your life and get yourself the natural sunlight you need. Although these devices are clinically proven to be helpful, even the best light box won’t give you as much phototherapy benefit as 30 minutes outside on even an overcast day.

More: How the Most Common Sleep Positions Affect Your Health

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Tags: sleep