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Early Morning Sun Exposure is a Life Changing Habit
Life Changing Habits Series
I have been critical of prevailing mental health treatments that fall short of delivering substantial results. Turning to standard talk therapy and toxic pharmaceuticals as solutions for a wide array of mental health issues appears ludicrous at times, especially when the persons lifestyle is contributing to widespread mental and physical health problems. It's essential that any therapeutic approach actively encourages substantial shifts in behavior. Without this emphasis on meaningful change, the impact is likely to be limited, possibly amounting to little more than emotional support.
In my view, the efficacy of a mental health interventions hinges on its capacity to induce tangible behavioral modifications that enhance health and well-being. This can range from improving relationships, managing stress, facing fears, improving sleep, improving dietary habits and increasing activity. I am firmly convinced that we need to redirect our attention towards adopting sensible, evidence-based lifestyle changes that have consistently demonstrated their capacity to yield meaningful enhancements in both mental and physical well-being. With the mounting evidence of harm created by commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs it imperative we return to common sense approaches that restore health and well being.
The intention behind these habits is to present individuals with actionable and effective strategies, each backed by a solid foundation of empirical evidence. By integrating these habits into daily life, individuals can proactively contribute to the enhancement of their mental health in substantial and sustainable ways. I will be sprinkling in these articles in the coming months.
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What are the Health Benefits of Early Morning Sun Exposure?
Many experts believe viewing morning sunlight is one of the most effective habits to support mental health, physical health and performance.
1. Improved Sleep
Numerous studies have highlighted the connection between sleep disruptions, insomnia, and the trajectory of depression. This connection extends to heightened instances of suicidal thoughts and an elevated risk of suicide. Consequently, the intricate interplay between sleep patterns and mood has been a subject of extensive investigation over time.
The eyes play a vital role in transmitting time-of-day cues to the brain and body. When exposed to early sunlight, the pituitary gland receives a signal that prompts the release of hormones. Bright morning light tells your body to suppress melatonin production and increase cortisol production (which is good for you in healthy amounts) and serotonin. Subsequently, the pineal gland transforms serotonin into melatonin, a key factor in facilitating natural sleep onset during nighttime. Outdoor light, even on a cloudy day, delivers considerably more lux than indoor light. Rainy, winter days will produce lux levels of 1000 or more, which is far greater than any inside light will produce - and on sunny, summer days, sunlight can deliver light that is one thousand times brighter than indoor light.
Our bodies work on 24-hour circadian rhythms, which affect our sleep-wake cycle and other functions, including hormone regulation and appetite. Seeing the morning sunshine at the same time each day helps regulate our clock, and when it's time for bed, we'll be more ready to fall asleep and stay at rest.
2. Improved Mood
Bright-light dose significantly negatively affected threat-related amygdala and prefrontal reactivity in a dose-dependent manner resulting in decrease in anxiety according to a recent study
”If people are exposed to light in the morning that mimics the wavelengths of daylight, they become better at coping with anxiety-provoking experiences. The light simply improves the communication between the regions of the brain that are central to our handling of emotions such as stress and anxiety,” says PhD fellow Brenda Mc Mahon, MD, of the Neurobiology Research Unit at the Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.
Natural light increases the natural production mood-positive neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, in the parts of the brain that regulate mood. When we expose ourselves to sunlight, a cascade of physiological responses occurs. Sunlight also stimulates the production and release of endorphins, natural chemicals in our brain that act as mood enhancers and pain relievers. Endorphins have a powerful effect on our mood and overall well-being. They create a sense of joy, relaxation, and even euphoria.
"The antidepressant properties of sunlight have been known since antiquity," says Leslie Swanson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Michigan Medicine and an expert in behavioral sleep medicine at the Michigan Medicine Sleep Disorders Centers. "Morning bright light is an effective antidepressant for both seasonal affective disorder and non-seasonal depression."
3. Boost Immune System and Prevent Disease
The human body requires sunlight to help increase the production of vitamin D in the body. This sunlight is the primary source of natural vitamin D, while very little comes from food. Vitamin D is essential for absorbing minerals to keep our bones, muscles, and teeth strong. It is also vital for our immunity and many more metabolic functions.Vitamin D also has immunomodulatory effects that can improve the body’s immune system. Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that sunlight, through a mechanism separate than vitamin D production, energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity. Their findings, in Scientific Reports, suggest how the skin, the body’s largest organ, stays alert to the many microbes that can nest there.
Researchers have noted a link between exposure to the sun and lower blood pressure levels, with reduced death rates from cardiovascular issues. They suggest that exposure to sunlight triggers the skin to release stores of nitrogen oxides, which cause arteries to dilate, lowering blood pressure, and may reduce the impact of metabolic syndrome.
Life Changing Habit Protocol #1
Commit to Early Morning Sun Exposure upon Wakening around the same time every morning.
Avoid electronic use until after sun exposure
Drink 16 oz of water with electrolytes upon wakening
Minimum 15 minute movement in the sun on a sunny day
30 minute walk in cloud cover/winter months
Attempt to get as much sun on the skin as possible based on the elements
Do not wear sunscreen or sunglasses
*BONUS: Meditation/mindfulness in sun for minimum 10 minutes
* SUPER BONUS: Intense Exercise and Grounding with Nature in the Sun
“Little drops of water make the mighty ocean
― Julia Carney
I have found even small changes can create dramatic improvements. Allocating just 15-30 minutes in the morning can yield significant improvements in mood, sleep quality, and overall health. It prompts me to question why this approach isn't more frequently recommended as a primary intervention for addressing mood-related issues. I firmly believe that mental health treatments should first prioritize the safest and scientifically proven interventions. These fundamental pillars of well-being ought to be embraced before resorting to more invasive or potentially hazardous medical measures.