Using Sunlight to Regulate Your Circadian Rhythm
The Importance of Sunlight
If you were to go off the grid camping for even a few days with zero technology, your body’s natural circadian rhythm would naturally regulate. If you have the option to do this, I seriously very highly recommend that you do. For the rest of us, or even for those who do and want to maintain results back in the real world, you can begin to change your environment to mimic the natural rising and setting with the sun. One of the first and most under-utilized strategies for resolving insomnia and sleep problems is daily exposure to sunlight. In nature, we would ideally rise with the sun and go to bed shortly after it sets. It would feel very easy and natural to do. Research has recently shown that the average American is getting about 1.5 hours a week of time in direct sunlight. We should be getting that amount each day! It’s easy to see how this happens when we go from waking up inside, to then driving in a car, to sitting in an office, then straight to the gym, and then home to crash out in front of the TV for the rest of the night- even to help lull us to sleep. Most people are also scrolling through their phones while watching tv, exposing themselves to even more light. We don’t take time to just simply walk or be outside. The sun naturally helps tell our bodies when we should be waking up and winding down just by our exposure to it. But if that doesn’t happen, we are in this constant state of fluorescent lights coupled with the blue light from our screens all day. You cannot have a normal circadian rhythm in that type of environment.
Tips For Resetting Your Circadian Rhythm with Light
- Your room should be dark and quiet. Use either complete blackout curtains or an eye mask. Also, a white noise machine is particularly helpful to drowning out outside noise. You can also use earplugs to achieve the same effect. Shoot to be asleep sometime by 11 PM, or before midnight at the absolute latest.
- Wake up close to the natural time of sunrise and use a sunrise alarm clock. Contrasting the darkness of night, you want to expose yourself to light only when it is time to wake up. It is best to get outside as early as possible, even to watch the sunrise. This will help suppress melatonin and tell your brain it’s time to be awake. Even 5 minutes outside can wake you up more than your morning cup of coffee. Conversely, use the same sunrise alarm clock to mimic a sunset before sleep, as our brains respond to both the rising and setting of the sun.
- Walk, workout, exercise, and hang out outdoors as much as humanly possible. Going to the gym to run on the treadmill? Try doing that outside. Have a phone meeting this afternoon? If circumstances allow, take it while going on a short walk. Use your lunch break to either sit or walk around outside and soak up some rays. It’s important to expose yourself to natural sunlight morning, afternoon, and evening as the sun is setting as much as you can. Even if you’re just sitting outside for a few minutes. Your brain will start to reset when you are supposed to feel tired and when you are supposed to be awake.
- If you follow even one suggestion on this list, please limit screens at least two hours before bedtime and do not bring your phone in your room or use as an alarm. I know this one is hard, but the blue light emitted by screens is directly correlated with insomnia and sleep deprivation. You can’t fall asleep if your screens are all telling your brain it’s time to be awake. Your bedroom should ideally have zero or very minimal technology in it. Cut the tv and phone usage before bed and don’t use them as a means to fall asleep. Just this one strategy alone will help more than anything.
- Think of the brightness of your lights through the day. Ideally, our lights should be the brightest in the morning and then start to slowly dim in the late afternoon on. Bright lights in the evening do not help your brain unwind. The less stimulated you are with lights of any kind at night, the easier it is to fall asleep when you want to. Get outside and turn up the lights bright in the morning, and then get outside for sunset and turn the lights down in the evening. Have your indoor lighting match the outdoors as best as possible. You can even use the orange light of salt lamps to reinforce evening time with your brain even more.
- Use blue light blocking glasses in the evening and when on the computer during the day. Not only with this protect your eyes, but it will also not overly stimulate your brain (especially in the evening) when you are trying to unwind.
Implementing anything you can from this list will absolutely help regulate your wake and sleep times, plus making it easier to be awake or fall asleep without added uppers and downers. In a nutshell, expose yourself to natural sunlight and brighter lights during the day, and limit blue light exposure while keeping lights dim in the evening and then blackout darkness at night for sleep. It may sound simple, but sometimes those are the best, most effective solutions!