Does the Sun Help You Sleep?
The Lifestyle Changes
More natural light early in the day. Whether you are walking your dog or reading the paper, getting this early morning sunlight has many benefits. One benefit is that it further peaks your cortisol levels that will offer a bigger counter balance when it is time for melatonin to do it's work at night.
Less artificial light late in the day. The artificial light from electronic devices like phones and televisions emit blue light. If you’ve ever driven through a neighborhood and noticed the blue light coming from someone's living room window, you've probably wondered what they were watching or if they were being abducted by aliens. This blue glow from these devices closely resembles the spectrum of light that triggers our body's response to sunlight. Your eyes and skin see this blue light and trick your body into releasing cortisol because it's "daytime.”
Before you get overwhelmed with a bunch of tips on how to improve your overall sleep quality, it is important to understand why these sleep tips work.
Just above the brainstem lives the hypothalamus which houses the suprachiasmatic nucleus. A process of the suprachiasmatic nucleus can be described as a 24-hour body clock or Circadian Rhythm which regulates our sleep/wake cycle. The hypothalamus tells our body when to wake up and when to go to sleep in several different ways. One of which is in the secretion of hormones done by the pituitary gland.
Produced by the adrenal gland, cortisol is directly related to wakefulness. In the early morning, cortisol peaks aiding your ability to wake up.
On the other hand, melatonin, produced in the pineal gland, is referred to as the get-good-sleep hormone. Melatonin helps you get to sleep and allows your body to repair itself (more on this in later posts.)
These two hormones work in opposition. They hate each other but are respectful of one another's space. When one is present, the other is nowhere to be found. They know they have differences and both of them know that even after countless hours of heart to heart conversation, there is nothing that can be done to fix their relationship.
With the understanding of the relationship between cortisol and melatonin, you now know that you can't beat biological functions. All efforts to improve your overall sleep quality has to supplement what is already happening in your body. Embracing sunlight early in the morning is a great place to start. There is no reinventing the wheel on this one.