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Light Diet: How Sunshine can Optimize your Health

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

**This blog was written for and published by Got Your Back Foundation Non-Profit. See original link below:

Have you ever wondered why you tend to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day, regardless of alarms and wake-up calls? It’s because every one of us has a master clock that tells us when to sleep, when we’re tired when to wake up, etc. This inner clock is called our circadian rhythm and it functions by releasing different hormones and chemicals throughout the day. You might be wondering, what tells this innate, master clock to tick? Well, just like all life on earth our circadian rhythm is controlled by the sun. We need the sun to regulate our bodily functions, yet amid modern technology and quarantine, we are spending more time indoors and away from the sun than ever before. 

Humans evolved with two sources of light: sun & fire. Our first exposure to artificial light was the invention of the lightbulb only a few hundred years ago. This invention was revolutionary and it changed how we lived. It allowed us to spend more time inside, resulting in significantly less sunshine exposure. This lack of sunshine therapy was only exacerbated by the expansion of technology, which has caused us to be bombarded by unnatural light stimulus all day. 

Let’s break it down a bit to understand why our “light diets” matter.

The light from the sun is a full-spectrum white light. The light from candles and fire is orange and yellow. The light from fluorescent indoor lighting is green, blue, and white. The only artificial light that comes close to mimicking sunlight are LED screens, which also produce the same type of bright white light. 

Our bodies have adapted to want different kinds of light, at different times of the day to create our ideal circadian rhythms. For the majority of human existence, people woke up to the bright full-spectrum light of the sun and spent time outside in it during the day. As it got darker, they turned to fire and candles (Orange and yellow light) to light the world around them, then fell asleep and repeated the process. This allowed their bodies circadian rhythms to function optimally. 

This introduction of screens and indoor lighting has completely thrown this off.  Now, most of us wake up and immediately are flooded with artificial light, telling our body “Hey it’s midday already!” It’s no wonder we all crash come the afternoon. When it comes to nighttime (when our body wants orange/yellow light) we continue to feed it bright white, green, and blue light. When our bodies should be downregulating and preparing for sleep, they’re continually being told that it’s still daytime. This results in poor sleep habits and over exhaustion. Adaptation takes time, and maybe our bodies will eventually adjust to this new environment; however, the introduction of this new technology is relatively recent and has caused various health problems. 

How much and what kind of light you get is important to your health, wellness and longevity.

If we have a poor light diet, we will have poor sleep. Sleep is absolutely vital as it restores us. While we sleep, tissues heal, anti-aging hormones release, the immune system is strengthened and our guts get a break from processing food. 

An imbalance in our light diets can have potentially harmful or lethal effects to our health. A lack of vitamin D (which we harness from sunlight) is directly correlated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Limiting sun exposure has been shown to decrease vitamin D levels, increase adiposity (fat tissue), and decrease memory. Increasing un-natural light (especially in the evenings) has been shown to decrease total sleep, sleep quality, and actually lower academic scores. In addition, our skin and retinas must-see sunlight on a regular basis to survive optimally. 

So what are some things you can do to get your circadian rhythms back on track?

Sunlight before Screenlight 

  • When you wake up in the morning, avoid your screens or indoor lighting. Head outside first thing in the AM and get some sunlight! This allows your brain and body to wake up naturally.

Follow the 1-hour rule

  • 1 hour before bed, do your best to stay off of screens and out of bright indoor lighting. Try reading a book, playing an instrument, or just relaxing with your family. This allows the brain and body to down-regulate and set you up for a great night of sleep. 

Invest in blue blockers

  • The proteins in your body that are largely responsible for telling your body to wake up are very sensitive to blue light (which is high in screens and indoor lighting). Blue blocker glasses filter out that light and help our bodies adjust and optimize our circadian rhythms. They can be worn anytime during the day you are on a screen but are especially important later in the evening. 

Hopefully, now you’ve “seen the light” about the importance that sunlight plays in your daily life and can utilize some of these tips to reach optimal health, happiness, and longevity!

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