How a simple shift in your morning routine can improve your sleep and energize you all day

The good news is this 'biohack' requires almost no willpower.

man standing with his arms raised, facing the rising sun
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Going outside and facing the sun every morning can be life-changing.

Most of us have a desire to improve our health, sleep more soundly, have more energy and just generally feel better in our daily lives. And yet those things feel elusive to many of us, so we're always on the hunt for hacks that can help us—and if those hacks don't require a huge change in lifestyle or herculean feats of willpower, all the better.

Thankfully, there's one small change you can make to your morning routine that can make a big difference in how you feel, think and sleep, and it's refreshingly simple.

In a nutshell: Go outside and face the sun. More specifically, go outside as soon as possible after waking, but definitely within the hour, and look toward the sun for 2 to 10 minutes if it's a bright, sunny day and a little longer on a cloudy one.

Most of us know we get vitamin D from sun exposure on our skin, but that's really not what getting morning sunlight is about. It's about the sun's light energy hitting our eyes.

As Dr. Andrew Huberman, Stanford University neuroscience professor and opthamologist, explains, "This is not some 'woo' biological thing. This is grounded in the core of our physiology. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of quality peer-reviewed papers showing that light viewing early in the day is the most powerful stimulus for wakefulness throughout the day and it has a powerful positive impact on your ability to fall and stay asleep at night."

Huberman calls it a "power tool" for getting a great night's sleep and lists it as one of the six pillars people should invest in every day—morning sunlight, daily movement, quality nutrition, stress control, healthy relationships and deep sleep.

While the advice to look toward the sun flies in the face of all the times we've been warned not to look at the sun, in the early morning, the sun is less intense and you don't need to look directly at it to get the benefits of its light rays. The photons still enter your eyes through indirect light, triggering the cortisol spike that sets your circadian rhythm in order.

"Getting sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning is absolutely vital to mental and physical health," Huberman says. "It is perhaps the most important thing that any and all of us can and should do in order to promote metabolic well-being, promote the positive functioning of your hormone system, get your mental health steering in the right direction."

He explains that artificial lights aren't the same and won't have the same impact. Conversely, artificial light can mess up your circadian rhythm if you look at them too late at night or when you should be sleeping.

"There's this asymmetry in our retinal, in our eye biology and our brain's biology, whereby early in the day, right around waking, you need a lot of light, a lot of photons, a lot of light energy," he says on his podcast. "And artificial lights generally won't accomplish what you need them to accomplish. But at night, even a little bit of artificial light can really mess up your so-called circadian, your 24-hour clocks, and all these mechanisms we're talking about."

The good news is that stepping out your front door and standing in the sun doesn't require a whole lot of willpower—at least not like exercise or resisting screens in the evening does. Simply go outside and stand there (though walking is even better). Give it a try and see if it makes a difference for you.

And you can also see Dr. Huberman go a lot more in depth about the benefits of sunlight and light therapies of all kinds here.

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