In the grand symphony of life, sunlight plays the role of the conductor, directing our natural rhythm and keeping us in harmony. This maestro of well-being, often referred to as the circadian rhythm, choreographs our daily performance, guiding our energy, mood, and focus. The remarkable aspect? It’s all orchestrated by light, primarily sunlight. As fall arrives and the days grow shorter, it’s the perfect time to explore why your health thrives on sunlight (and other types of light as well) and how you can harness its benefits.

Your Inner Timekeeper.

Before we dive into the magic of sunlight, let’s explain the circadian rhythm. “Circa” meaning “approximate” and “dian” signifying “day,” it’s the internal conductor that keeps you in sync during the 24-hour cycle of each day. Picture this: within the confines of your brain lies a tiny, yet incredibly significant, clock called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Perched just above the crossing point of your optic nerves (aptly named “supra” meaning “above” and “chiasma” meaning “crossing point”), it captures the information brought in through your eyes in the form of light. This daily reset allows your body to adapt to the natural day-night cycle.

This maestro regulates your wake-sleep cycle, facilitates the body’s restoration during sleep, influences your meal preferences, governs body temperature, manages hormone release, and even wields direct influence over your mood and emotions. In essence, it’s the key to your health, and most importantly, brain health. Staying in harmony with your intrinsic rhythm promotes physical and mental well-being. Deviating from it, on the other hand, can lead to various health unbalances.

But here’s where it gets even more fascinating: sunlight isn’t just a uniform source of illumination. Its frequency and information vary throughout the day, and your brain uses these changes to activate different functions. Morning light serves as your body’s wake-up call, signalling the start of a new day. Late afternoon light, on the other hand, signifies that it’s time to wind down as bedtime approaches.

Wind your clock.

Now, let’s move from theory to action and explore how you can feed this tiny but influential clock to reap the benefits of a well-balanced circadian rhythm. Let’s take a closer look at how you can take advantage of sunlight to improve your brain performance, sleep hygiene, mood, and productivity:

Early Morning Light: No artificial light will replace sunlight regarding health benefits and brain-body regulation. However, if you are an early bird like me and wake up before the sun comes out, you might want to think about getting a (cheap online) daylight lamp and use it within one hour of waking if possible. If you exercise outdoors, catching those seemingly insignificant first rays of soft morning light can be key to setting a positive and productive tone for the day.

Sunlight Exposure: Maximize your exposure to natural light in the morning, even when rainy or overcast. If you work from a basement, with no windows or a dark setting, turn on that daylight lamp and keep it on until noon. Try not to use this lamp after lunch; other than help, it may mess up your internal rhythm and the ability of the brain and body to read the accurate cues of time and space. Morning light exposure not only regulates your stress levels, mood and productivity but also aligns with your circadian rhythm’s peak activity period. Consistency is key, as even if you don’t feel immediate changes, regular light exposure yields long-term benefits.

Regular Mealtimes: Keep your meals consistent and try to schedule them during daylight hours or shortly before and after sunrise and sunset. From a “brain” perspective, light exposure and meal timing complement each other, potentially influencing better food choices, as studies suggest we make healthier selections when eating during our circadian rhythm’s active phase.

Lights at Dusk: Artificial light in the evening affects sleep quality, which, in turn, impacts your focus, memory, and mood. Keep your home dimly lit after sunset and limit the use of electronic devices. While it might seem challenging, the benefits to your health make it worth the effort.

Blue-Light-Blockers: Be mindful of blue-light-blocking glasses in the morning. They will filter part of the “good” light that needs to get to your brain to activate the orchestra. Save them for night work, and use them after 4 PM when filtering some of the blue light will benefit you greatly.

In the upcoming weeks, while the mornings grow darker and the nights come in sooner, make it a goal to increase your exposure to light during the day and reduce artificial light after sunset. The results may surprise you. You might find yourself needing less morning caffeine, enjoying an enhanced mood and productivity at work, and surprisingly, you might not feel affected by the changes of the season this year.

Stay well and shine some light,