Sleep Tips

Should You get Sun Exposure in the Morning?

✔️ Takeaway: humans live and thrive by sunlight. It’s essential to get enough sun/light exposure during the day to signal your brain to be awake and focused. If you don’t get enough light, it can bring your circadian rhythm out of whack. It’ll be more difficult to stay awake during the day… and more difficult to sleep during the night.
Time to read: 6 minutes 23 seconds.

Ask any Dutch person on a sunny day how it’s going and he’ll say:

Well, sun’s shining. Everything’s great!

I never paid attention to it, but a quick look on a sunny day in Amsterdam shows you that everyone is walking on the sunny sidewalk. And avoiding the shade as much as possible.

Turns out it’s actually a great thing to do for your health.

Today we’re going to discuss how sunlight regulates your circadian rhythm.

And 5 ways to get more light exposure in the morning.

Ready? Let’s go.

How does sunlight regulate your circadian rhythm?

Light is an important factor to regulate your circadian rhythm. 

Why? Because all in history our days were regulated by the sun.

If it was dark outside, it was basically impossible to get anything done.

Try hunting when you can’t see the animal.

So over hundreds of thousands of years our species got a rhythm that worked WITH the sun.

In short. We are wired to be active when the sun is up.

And we should chill and sleep when it’s night.

What is wrong in modern society?

Well, we don’t get as much natural light as we did even a hundred years ago.

Many of us are living in boxes. Then taking our box on wheels to go to our work box.

So we don’t really get outside.

Add to that the fact that TOO MUCH sun can cause skin cancer. And we’re a nation of people avoiding the sun even more.

Too much sun is bad. But recent studies are showing that avoiding the sun is a hell of a lot worse.

If you don’t signal your brain that it’s time to wake up, your circadian rhythm can get out of whack.

Activity is supposed to peak during the day. So that you can chill at night.

It’s like an up and down line.

So if you don’t cause that upward peak… your downward peak will also be less intense.

Which then causes stuff like insomnia, worrying at night… or being overactive at night.

All stuff that millions of people are struggling with.

And what about lightbulbs?

When you turn on the light in the morning, you might feel as if it’s incredibly light. Your eyes are still sensitive, so you experience the light as very bright.

So doesn’t this count as a signal to your brain to wake up?

Well, yes. It does.

However, studies have shown that to give a strong wake up signal, the light needs to be at least 1000 lux.

For reference. Walking outside on midday on a bright day, the lux can be high up tens of thousands.

Or even on a cloudy day, you still get a couple thousand lux.

So, lamps are not a substitute. In most cases. We’ll talk about that later 😉

So should you get sunlight in the morning?

The burning question.

Should you get sunlight in the morning? 

The answer is an absolute yes.

By getting sunlight in the morning… you:

  • Signal your brain that it’s time to wake up naturally
  • Set yourself up for good sleep at night
  • Have more natural energy and focus throughout the day

getting sunlight throughout the day is important. But in the morning it’s even more important.

As you’re setting up a good foundation for the whole day.
Added to that, you are also more receptive to the stimulating effects of sunlight in the morning.

But it can be difficult to get enough light in the mornings…

Some common obstacles are:

  • Waking up too late
  • Sun coming up too late in winter (after you’re already at work)
  • Working inside
  • Working from home
  • Taking the metro to work

Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to make sure you get at least 20 minutes.

5 Simple ways to get 20 minutes of light in the morning

It’s best to see if you can get your sun/light exposure before 9AM. However, if that’s impossible for your schedule, then don’t sweat the details. If you can only get it from 9.30 to 10 AM, then that’s a lot better than no sun at all.

Also, some people say it’s best to shoot for at least 20 minutes. The more the better. However, I understand that’s also not possible for everyone. So I personally aim for anything is better than none.

Even if I can only chill for 5 minutes outside on a busy day, I like to take the opportunity. 

Let’s go to the 3 simplest ways to get at least 20 minutes of light exposure in the morning before 9AM:

#1 Take a walk

Walks are great. They get your blood pumping, give your body some exercise and you can slowly prepare for the day. You get to think about what you want to do, and how you’re going to tackle today’s challenges ahead.

What is also does is get you sunlight. You take walks outside. So you get light.

If you’ve got the time, this is the best way to get active and light in the morning.

Walks have tons more benefits for your optimizing your day/night cycle, but we’ll cover them in other articles.

How to: if you have the time, take a 20 minute walk in the morning before work. You’ll feel energized and ready to take on the day. Plus you’ll sleep better at night.

#2 Maybe you already get it during your commute?

This is one thing many don’t consider: light through the window actually count for light exposure. So if you go to work by car, chances are big that you already get your 20 minutes of light exposure.

That is, if you drive when it’s light. Also, if you travel by train, you need to sit next to the window. Otherwise you won’t get your 1000 lux.

A downside is that traveling by metro doesn’t count. As there’s only artificial light underneath the ground.

How to: if you travel by car or bike to work, then you most likely already get enough light in the morning. Be happy that you don’t need to change your routine 😉

#3 Have a coffee outside

This option is great if you need to be at work in the morning before the sun goes up. You can simply take a break around 9 and drink a nice cup of coffee outside. Or any beverage really. Doesn’t need to be coffee.

That will get you your light exposure and wake you up. 

It’s also a great option if you’re on holiday or just chilling on the weekend. You might not be in the mood for a walk. In that case just chill outside and have a nice warm drink.

How to: if it’s impossible for you to get light in the morning because of work, it’s a good idea to take a break and spend it outside around 8 or 9 AM.

#4 Put your desk next to the window

We just discussed that light through a window counts. So you can just place your desk next to your window.

Studies showed that office workers who worked next to a window got one average 47 minutes more sleep at night than workers who worked not next to a window.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is jcsm.10.6.603.t03.jpg

That’s huge.

If you have the chance to do this at your work, you’d be stupid not to do it.

How to: sit next to a window while you work. Once a while, just look outside for a minute or so, to expose yourself to light. 

#5 get a STRONG light source

If none of the above work for your situation, you can try this.

See if you can find a very strong light source. There are lamps created by Philips I think that you can place in your bedroom to mimic the sun’s light.

They’re not as strong as it would be on a good warm sunny day, but they can come close.

Most of them get higher than 1000 lux.

Also, if you don’t want to buy a special light box for this, you can experiment with stronger LED lamps.

I’ve got one at home and it actually gets above a 1000 lux if I’m pretty close to it. 

It’s so bright that I can’t look at it directly. But I like to sit next to it if I need to wake up early, or if it’s a cloudy rainy day.

How to: if you cannot get natural light in the morning, then see if you can get a lightbox or very strong LED light that offers enough lux.

And please don’t be too cool…

You know those people that just seem to be wearing their sunglasses everywhere they go.

With the least amount of sunshine getting through, they put on their glasses. Or even worse: when there’s no sun at all.

Now you’ve got a great valid excuse to laugh at them.

Not only are they making a fool of themselves by acting too cool for everyone… they’re also depriving themselves of natural light. 

After all, your eyes contain the most receptors that signal your brain that it’s light outside.

And if you’ve made this mistake in the past? Don’t worry. Just use sunglasses what they’re meant for from now on. Only wear them on when you’re driving against low sun, or when it’s really incredibly bright outside that you can’t see a thing without them.

Wearing them in most other situations is unnecessary and often even pretty dumb from a circadian perspective.

By Adrianus

Since childhood I've tried hundreds of little experiments to feel better, learn faster and perform higher (e.g. supplements, sports, psychological tricks, sleep and wacky diets).
After I graduated university in 2016, I basically found that sleep was the #1 factor to improve every aspect of life.
Bad sleep = bad life. I started SleepInvestor in 2017 to share my experiments and thoughts about sleep.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *