We’ve all done it – woken up early or stayed out late— just to watch the sun crest the horizon. There is no denying sun worshipping is in our nature, it’s in our biology.
So much so, that scientists tell us regular and strategic exposure to sunlight can have profound effects on the human body. Photoreceptors, or fancy neurons in our eyes, intake light cues from our environment to inform, set, and regulate our biological clocks. This includes all of our circadian rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle, mood and alertness, appetite, immune system function and more. If these processes are not synchronized, humans can experience impaired cognition and physical ailments.
Creating a practice for optimal light exposure throughout the day is the single most important way to improve sleep and mood, which benefit a slew of other health indicators. While ideal light conditions are unique for everyone, here are three tips to expose residents and those you care for to a thoughtful light routine:
- Schedule events outdoors and in the morning.
Within one hour of waking, encourage residents to step outside for 10-30 minutes. Sunlight is significantly brighter than artificial light, even sitting in the shade unobstructed by walls is brighter than indoors. If needed, supplement inside with bright overhead light, but ultimately incorporating daily, morning sun exposure is key to regulating sleep and wakefulness.
- Coincide the benefits of light with other healthy habits.
Be it exercise, social interaction, or moments of reflection. Daytime sunlight feeds a natural hunger for light and can elevate residents’ moods by prompting positive biochemical releases in the brain. Aligning light exposure with other routines, like meal-time or activity, positively compounds mental state and further regulates biological processes.
- Dim lights in the evening and avoid bright light after sundown.
In the evening, recommend residents use dim, warm-toned light that is low in the visual field to mimic natural signals to rest. Avoid bright lights during hours of peak rest by installing night-lights, sconces or dimmable lights near residents’ bathrooms and bedsides. To ensure spaces remain safe test low light conditions and keep bright light options readily accessible.
Daily sunlight exposure may not be comfortable or feasible for everyone; but like all routines, with consistency comes resiliency. Implementing strategic light exposure in daily operation is a simple way to prevent disordered functioning and harness human biology to improve wellbeing.