Sunshine and Sleep: How to Use One to Improve the Other 

Good morning, sunshine! 

Not a morning person? Don’t worry. You don’t have to be cheery about it to reap the rewards of rising early. 

The health benefits of getting outside in the morning and catching some proverbial “rays” are substantial and well documented, and provide you with an easy way to boost not only your outlook on the day ahead of you, but to make an impact on your ongoing sleep patterns. 


Benefits of Morning Sunlight

Light is the principal control of our day/night cycle, telling our bodies when to do what. And at the top of that list is when to sleep. 

 We’ve established the importance of keeping regular sleep times and wake times as part of your daily schedule. But when paired with morning exposure to sunlight—whether it be a walk with your dog or just lounging on your patio—the powerful duo sets you up for sleep success.

Research has found that those exposed to greater amounts of morning sunlight were quicker to fall asleep at night, and had fewer nighttime wake-ups than those who were exposed to less morning light. Plus, the people getting more morning sun were also less likely to report feelings of depression and stress. 

Not bad for something that’s completely free and just outside your front door, right?

How hormones and temperature play a part

By soaking up daylight in the morning, your body will naturally produce less melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone) in the morning, and therefore produce more at night. Melatonin is necessary for deep, restorative sleep, and can help you fall asleep easier and faster.  

Cortisol also plays a part. You can think of cortisol as the natural stress hormone—the one that triggers “fight or flight.” Part of its job is to help wake us up and get ready to tackle the day. Cortisol and melatonin are opposites, and cortisol levels should be higher in the mornings. Your cortisol levels surge when you expose yourself to morning light, so you’re kickstarting this process and helping your body stay on track with its optimal circadian rhythm.

 Temperature is important, too. As day comes to a close and the air around you naturally begins to cool with nightfall, your temperature cycle realizes it should be time for sleep. Exposing yourself simply to the warmth of the morning sunlight signals to your body that it’s time to be awake. 

How do I practice safe sun?

You’ll find the perfect morning sunshine between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. The sun is strong enough to pack that immunity-building punch, but not so strong that you’ll end up with a sunburn.  

For those just starting out, try a maximum of 10-15 minutes out in the sun without sunscreen on, and see how your skin responds. Those with darker skin tones could push it to 30 minutes, but be sure to prioritize the health of your skin here as well. If you’re heading out during the peak of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), slather on some SPF30 to play it safe. Experts recommend leaving your hat and sunglasses at home, too, for maximum benefit.  

So, what’s to lose? Make morning sunlight a bright spot in your daily routine, and look forward to better, deeper sleep.