Let’s Sleep Better With Morning Sunlight

3 min read

Sleep has been a nemesis of mine for as long as I have been an adult. Thankfully, my recovery journey with bipolar disorder has led me to discover some powerful tools for higher-quality sleep — and it’s a joy to share them here with you, one by one.

We all know that high-quality sleep is a basic need — not only for us to function, but also to thrive. Sleep is when our bodies and brains repair and rebuild. It’s when our memories are consolidated; it’s key for healthy cognitive, immune, hormonal, and metabolic function. Getting too little of it increases the risk of poor health, ranging from heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, to mental illness.

But getting enough high-quality sleep is incredibly challenging in our modern world.

There is one very simple way we can each unlock better sleep that’s within easy reach and likely overlooked by many of us. It’s free; it’s open to all, in any part of the world — even when it’s overcast or raining.

And that’s: Sunshine! (Or more properly, ultraviolet light — present in strong doses even on cloudy days.)

Exposure to natural sunlight early in the day helps optimally set our mood, cognition, immune function, and circadian rhythms, including our sleep-wake cycle, enabling us to achieve higher-quality sleep at night.

Setting our internal circadian clocks correctly is an important facet of establishing good sleep and optimal well-being for anyone, regardless of health status.

Time outside also has bonus facets: Immersion in nature decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation, and improves cognitive function and sleep. Hearing birdsong in particular enhances well-being and can decrease anxiety, paranoia, and depression — even when artificial. So tune into that birdsong channel when you’re outside!

It’s also important to know that circadian disruption is an increasingly recognized facet of mood disorders. In fact, chronotherapy — use of bright light or dark therapy and sleep phase shifts — can be harnessed to treat depression and bipolar disorder.

For me, as someone living with well-managed bipolar disorder, morning sunshine has been essential to maintaining my well-being. Not only do I make sure to get it daily wherever I am, but I also double down on it when I’m dealing with jet lag (more to come in a later post).

Here’s my morning routine: I savor my coffee outside as I contemplate plans for the day, read, or meditate on the clouds and birdsong.

This week’s challenge to sleep better

Expose yourself to direct sunlight (not through a windshield or window — which filter out UV light) for at least 10-15 minutes anytime before noon. Remove sunglasses if you’re able.

If you can manage more time, all the better. You can use the time to take a walk or jog, set intentions, breathe, do emails, Zoom — anything you’d like.

Before bed, take note of the day’s energy levels, mood, and sleepiness.

Here’s wishing you good rest and light!

A version of this article also appears in my well-being newsletter, Ask Dr Devika B.

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