How Getting Sunlight in the Morning Can Help You Sleep Better

Getting exposure to sunlight in the morning can help you sleep at night because it helps reset your body's inner "sleep clock." Light is an important cue for your body’s sleep cycle. The light you are exposed to during the day helps your body figure out when it’s time to go to bed (and when it’s time to wake up).

Exposing yourself to light for its health and sleep benefits is called light therapy. If you have a sleep disorder, getting light early in the day can even be part of your treatment plan.

This article goes over how you can use light therapy in the morning to help you feel more ready for bed in the evening.

Woman drinking coffee and enjoying the morning sunlight in garden
m-gucci / Getty Images

Why Sunlight Helps You Sleep

Sunlight affects your sleep because it affects your body. Here are a few examples:

  • Being in the sun warms you up. Your body temperature also changes when you sleep.
  • First thing in the morning, your body makes a stress hormone called cortisol. Having too much of this hormone at night can keep you awake.
  • Sunlight helps your body make a brain chemical called serotonin that plays an important role in your well-being.

Your body senses when it's daytime and when it's nighttime by being exposed to light. If you didn't get cues from light, your body would run on a pattern that is set by your genetics called tau.

The problem with tau is that it does not always exactly match the 24-hour day. Over time, day-to-day differences add up.

Our society also relies on light cues. For example:

  • Many businesses open in the morning and close at night
  • Kids leave for school in the morning and get home in the afternoon
  • Some people work a "9-to-5" schedule at their job

Light and Sleep Disorders

Humans know when they most feel like sleeping. For example, some people are "night owls" who like to go to bed later in the evening while other people are "larks" who are early risers.

However, if the timing of your sleep does not line up with the things you need to do—like going to work or school—you might not get enough rest.

Some people have conditions that prevent them from getting good sleep. The cycle of your sleep is called your circadian rhythm. If something goes wrong with this pattern, it affects your sleep.

For example, if you go to sleep late and wake up late, you may have delayed sleep phase syndrome. If you fall asleep early and wake up very early, you may have advanced sleep phase syndrome.

Getting light at certain times of the day can help with sleep disorders. For example, people with insomnia may find that using light therapy makes their sleep patterns more normal.

Taking a melatonin supplement may also help people regulate their sleep patterns. The hormone is naturally made by the brain and tells your body when it's time to go to sleep and time to wake up.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Having trouble sleeping can have many causes. Light therapy can be helpful for some conditions that affect your sleep, but not all. If you're having trouble sleeping, reach out to your provider to be evaluated.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is also called phototherapy. Research has shown that it can help people with certain medical conditions that affect their sleep, including:

The type of light you get matters as much as when you get it. For example, artificial light inside a building does not have the same effect as unfiltered sunlight.

Light Boxes

Artificial light boxes act like sunlight. However, they are not the same. The intensity of the sun's light is 100,000 lux. A light box can produce about 10,000 lux or less.

A light box can cost several hundred dollars. If you're able to go outside, you can get sunlight for free. While it might be cheaper, some people don't have the chance to get real sunlight.

For example, you might work at night or have to get up before sunrise. You might have to avoid the sun because of a medical condition or treatment. In these cases, a light box could be a way to get the benefits of light therapy.

Why Morning Light Works

You'll get the most benefit from sunlight if you can get it first thing in the morning. Try to get outside in the first hour after you wake up.

Spend 30 to 45 minutes in direct sunlight. Don't wear a sun visor or sunglasses. If the light is filtered, it won't have the same effect.

Guidelines for Light Exposure

To get the most out of your morning light exposure, follow these guidelines:

  • Get out in the sun within the first hour after you wake up
  • Spend 30-45 minutes in the sun
  • Don't wear sunglasses or visors
  • Get direct light (not filtered through glass)
  • Use sunscreen to protect your skin

Sunlight is less intense first thing in the morning. It can still damage your skin, but not as much as it would later in the day. Wearing sunscreen can help keep your skin safe as you soak up the morning light.

How to Get More Early Light

Taking a walk first thing in the morning gets you sunlight and exercise at the same time. If you have a porch or patio, you could have your breakfast outside. Just make sure the sun is getting on you (don't sit under an umbrella or awning).

If the day is overcast and cloudy, you can still get sunshine. Light from the sun that's filtered through clouds or rain can still have positive effects.

Once you figure out what works, stick to a regular schedule. Waking up at the same time every day and getting morning sunlight is a good combination.

You might not be able to keep the routine all the time, but do your best to find ways to include light therapy of some kind in your day.

You can get a little bit of sun by opening the windows at home or in your car when the weather is nice.

Summary

Getting sunlight when you first wake up in the morning can help you sleep better at night. There are different ways to get more light early in the day. Going outside in the sun is free, but you can also buy special lamps to do light therapy inside.

A Word From Verywell

If you aren't sleeping well at night, look for ways to get more sunshine right after you wake up in the morning. When you sleep well, it has positive effects on other areas of your life. Feeling rested and ready to take on the day will help you tackle your to-do list at home, work, or school.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.