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How the Sun (and Vitamin D) Affect Sleep

All the more reasons to soak up the sun this summer.

Jul 17, 2020

You may have heard that the key to a good night’s rest is a cool, quiet, and dark room. This is true. What you probably haven’t heard is that soaking up the sun is just as important for restful sleep. Wondering how both of these opposing environments, warm sunlight and cool darkness, positively impact our sleep cycle? We’re here to break it down. 

Light exposure helps us maintain our circadian rhythm. 

Draw the curtain open or take a morning stroll. We’re forcing ourselves out of the darkness of shuteye and into a new day! However you choose to embrace the light, just be sure to do it early. Light interrupts our brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us drift off to sleep. This is good when it’s time to wake up, and not so good when it’s time for rest (which is why darkness is equally important for restful sleep). 

Opt for morning sun.

While sunlight is generally beneficial for our mind and body, morning sun, in particular, is least dangerous for our skin. This is because sunlight in the morning is typically low in UV radiation, making it one of the safest times to soak up the sun. Afternoon sun tends to radiate more harmful rays, as well as challenge our natural body temperature and lead to dehydration- all of which lead us to feel exhausted. We’ve all been there, super tired after a long day in the sun. By choosing to take in some sunlight in the morning, not only will you be waking your body up, and avoiding premature exhaustion, you’ll also be doing so safely. 

Sunlight is a mood booster.

Exposing yourself (safely!) to sunlight can boost your brain’s production of serotonin. Serotonin is a mood-lifting hormone that promotes a sense of calm, happiness, and focus. Unlike melatonin, serotonin keeps us awake and energized. Prolonged time without sun exposure can cause negative fluctuations in serotonin levels and ultimately lead to feelings of lethargy, stress, and discontent. These emotions aren’t just unpleasant but they can also lead to long nights of tossing and turning without restful sleep. 

What to do when sunlight is hard to come by.

Whether geographically or seasonally, sunlight isn’t totally consistent. Yet, it’s super important for our overall mental and physical health. Consider supplementing the benefits of sun exposure with vitamin D. Ultraviolet-B radiation from sunlight is transformed into vitamin D in our bodies once sunrays penetrate our skin. As one study shows, this is important for our overall health but especially good for our bones, our skin, and our brain’s ability to focus and rationalize. Low levels of vitamin D, as with a lack of sun exposure, have proven to lead to poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration, too. While nothing beats the benefits of good ol’ sunlight, the future (well-rested) you will thank you for taking proactive measures for deep sleep. 

Written by Cybele Ramirez

Cybele is a freelance writer covering all things culture and lifestyle. She’s also a content strategist in the tech startup space and mastering Media Studies at The New School. You can find this native New Yorker canoodling her two dogs, trying out a new recipe, or on IG @cybelina.

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