How does sunlight affect sleep?

Wake up outside.

Move over, moon. The sun has a role to play in sleep too.

It’s been estimated that around 90% of our time is spent indoors (source) with much of that time spent looking at screens. If you’re not sleeping well, it could be because you don’t get enough sunshine. The more sunlight you get today, the better your sleep will be tonight and the better your day will be tomorrow.


Your sleep and wake cycles follow your “circadian rhythm”. The Latin word “circa” means “one” and “diem” means “day”, so circadian translates to “one day”. This one-day cycle initiates when your eyes first take in light in the morning.
The light passes through your eyes to your hypothalamus, a group of brain cells behind the optic nerves.  The hypothalamus acts as your body’s hormonal hub – when your hypothalamus “sees” the morning light, it signals the start of its daily hormone production schedule. At set times throughout the day, it releases hormones that control your energy levels, digestion, blood pressure, immune system, fat burning and more.  Inconsistent and inadequate sleep will throw off that schedule.
Sunlight taken in through our eyes and skin when you’re outdoors helps regulate production of cortisol, serotonin, and melatonin – all essential hormones for a good night’s sleep (and a better mood tomorrow). Daylight is 100 times more powerful than indoor lighting. Even on a cloudy day, you get 10 times more light outdoors than inside (source, p.11).


Morning light stimulates production of cortisol – your “get up and go” hormone that gives you the pep you need to start your day.


UV taken in through your eyes and skin stimulates production of serotonin – your “happiness” hormone. Serotonin is also linked to better quality sleep.

Here are 6 ways you can get more sunlight every day:

1. Get outside first thing in the morning – the morning rays are their most powerful then.

2. Try to find window seating while working or dining indoors.

3. Take a walk at lunch.

4. Take 15-minute “recharge” breaks. Going for even a 15-minute walk outside can help you clear your mind, improve focus at work, and spark new creative ideas.

5. If it’s nice out, dine al fresco. Not only is it good for sleep, it also makes mealtime more fun for the family.

6. Watch the sunset. We used to wake up and go to sleep with the sun. Thanks to modern day electricity, our internal clocks are on an entirely different rhythm. Get the day’s final sunshine while signalling to your body it’s time to wind down.

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