This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Research shows insomnia is a formidable foe of good health, but one study has revealed one simple thing people can do to help vanquish this enemy.
Scientists at the University of Michigan examining the sleep habits of people around the globe noted the effects prior research has found about a lack of shut-eye. “It doesn’t take that many days of not getting enough sleep before you’re functionally drunk,” says coauthor Olivia Walch. “Researchers have figured out that being overly tired can have that effect. And what’s terrifying at the same time is that people think they’re performing tasks way better than they are. Your performance drops off but your perception of your performance doesn’t.”
These observations come as no shock, as much has been written on the considerable toll insomnia takes on mental, emotional and physical wellness. The important finding from the study was how sunlight affects sleep.
Sunlight Exposure During the Day Promotes Better Sleep
After evaluating the data, it became apparent that getting outside during the day and receiving sunlight exposure enabled people to fall asleep faster and sleep longer at night. According to coauthor Dr. Daniel Forger, our sleep habits are partially determined by our internal circadian biological clock, which is set by a tiny cluster of 20,000 neurons behind the eyes. The amount of sunlight the eye receives regulates this mechanism, he explains.
The Connection Between Light and Sleep
What happens at night affects you during the day, and what happens during the day affects you at night. Just as hours of tossing and turning at night can leave you drained the next day, so also can the choices you make during the day affect your sleep quality. Your sleeping and waking cycles shouldn’t be viewed separately because they are intimately connected.
One of the most important factors that influences the sleep-wake cycle is light. Exposure to light late in the evening can promote alertness, which hinders the natural progression toward sleep. Conversely, exposure to sunlight in the early morning improves energy during the day and fosters better sleep at night. The body is most responsive to sunlight between 6 and 6:30 in the morning.
Earlier Research Shows the Benefit of Sunlight for Sleep
A 2013 study at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explored the effects of sunlight on the health of a group of office workers. The participants who worked in offices with windows slept 46 minutes longer at night than those who worked in windowless offices. Further analysis showed working in a space without natural sunlight affected quality of life, as it resulted in less energy, more ailments and poorer sleep quality in general.
Look for ways to get more sunlight during the day. Take a walk in the early morning, and position your work desk by an east-facing window. If your office doesn’t have a window, try to spend time outdoors during your breaks. While the sunlight factor alone can’t transform your sleep, it could play a significant role in improving it.