One of my favorite things to do in the early morning is step outside. I’ll wake up, grab a cup of tea, and sit on the front porch. The sunlight warms my face as I listen to the birds and look at the hazy clouds stretching across the sky. The sun reflects off the dew in the grass. Crickets chirp, leaves rustle, and a rooster crows in the distance.
Walking outside immediately upon waking sometimes feels like a chore, especially in the chilly early mornings of fall and winter, but there are so many benefits to taking advantage of the morning sunlight.
It makes sense that morning light exposure can make you feel more awake and alert. But by exposing your eyes to the early morning rays, your brain is signaled to stop producing melatonin, making you more alert. Regular morning sunlight exposure can actually help regulate your circadian rhythm. This helps develop a solid sleep-wake cycle and can help you feel more rested upon waking. If you’re like me, waking up early can sometimes feel like the worst thing to ever happen. Regulating this cycle also impacts the release of hormones that govern your daily life by indicating when you feel tired, when you’re most energized, and when you feel hungry. Our bodies’ natural cycles sometimes contradict our lives, making it more difficult to sleep and eat when it is convenient (or necessary).
Morning sunlight is also a natural way to combat stress, anxiety, and depression with its profound mood-boosting effects. As someone who struggles with anxiety, waking up feeling “off” can put a cloud over the whole day. Stepping outside first thing in the morning truly helps me feel more grounded and connected to nature. Light therapy is used as a treatment for certain conditions, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. While natural sunlight tends to be most effective, light boxes or sunlamps can have similar benefits.
You can also reinforce your morning sunlight routine by combining it with shirin-yoku, the Japanese wellness practice of being present in a forest and experiencing nature with all your senses. If you live near a forest, consider spending your mornings among the trees.
This technique also pushes us to take advantage of the morning hours. Depending on your schedule, it may not be realistic to set aside time mid-day to relax in nature, but many have access to a front porch or garden. Even sipping your morning coffee or tea outside can help get those extra rays.
Morning sunlight is special in that it is generally less intense than the afternoon rays, which means you can get the many benefits of sun exposure with less risk of skin damage. They recommend spending at least 30 minutes in the sunlight each morning, within an hour of waking up, in order to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Morning sunlight can also resolve issues caused by blue light, a relatively new phenomenon that is nearly impossible to avoid. Throughout human history, sun, moon, and stars provided most of the light we needed. Even candles and light bulbs provided red light. Now, blue light can be found in the things we spend much of our time looking at: computer screens, cell phones, and even fluorescent lights. While we can’t avoid this, early morning sunlight can help by “[reinforcing] the circadian rhythm that blue light disrupts.”
This technique also pushes me to be mindful of my surroundings. Spending time in nature, especially first thing in the morning, can help you to feel more grounded. Whether you’re walking down the street or sitting in your backyard, being outside often helps to feel more connected to the natural world. It’s easy to overlook small things like the sounds of the morning birds, tiny sprouting flowers, and the earthy feeling of the ground under your feet. Being mindful of your surroundings for even a few minutes can help promote a relaxed and focused mindset. It’s important to note that this can be done nearly anywhere, and you don’t need a forest or hiking trail to connect to nature. I’ve found that stepping outside and simply existing helps me feel more prepared for the day and breaks the monotonous (and sometimes stressful) morning routine.
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Photo: Cassidy Klingman