Science in Action: Sunlight and Sleep (could it be?)

In an airport a few weeks ago, chatting with a stranger, I told her about my self-experimentation. When I stand a lot, I sleep better, I said. She said that sunlight had the same effect on her: When she sunbathes, she sleeps better. Better how? I asked. More deeply, she said.

I had found that morning sunlight (an hour, say) helps me sleep. Her idea was different: No one sunbathes in the morning. She was saying that the amount of sunlight matters independent of the time of day.

This was fascinating because I remembered two days, prior to studying the effects of standing and morning light, after which I had slept very well (i.e., woken up feeling very well-rested):

1. A day when I went to many artists’ studios to look at their work (an event called Open Studios).

2. A camping trip.

Both days I was on my feet a lot. But both days I was also outside a lot, I realized.

Yesterday I gave her idea a test: I spent more time than usual outside — about three hours more, I’d guess. I spend a lot of time sitting in cafes writing; yesterday I sat outside instead of inside.

This morning I woke up feeling unusually well-rested. This bears more investigation.

2 Replies to “Science in Action: Sunlight and Sleep (could it be?)”

  1. You might recall the experiment done at Wake Forest where they had subjects who liked to sunbathe spend time in two areas of artificial sunlight; one of which had the ultraviolet light screened out. They were given mood assessments afterwards and alternated exposures in the different rooms. Mood was much higher after being exposed to the UV light; and when they were given a choice at the end of the experiment to pick one of the two rooms to sunbathe in, 11 of 12 preferred the one with UV light.

    Here’s one summary
    “Professor Steven Feldman The Wake Forest team analysed 14 people, aged between 16 and 34, who typically used tanning beds two times a week. Each volunteer spent 15 minutes lying on a sunbed which exposed them to UV rays and then on another – again for 15 minutes – which released no rays. The volunteers were not told which beds released UV. The subjects were asked if they would like to return days later and use a sunbed of their own choosing. Twelve returned and 95% [?] opted for the bed which radiated UV light. They said it made them feel good and helped them relax. The researchers believe that tanning may release endorphins into the bloodstream.”

    And another URL:

    So the better sleep could be mediated by better mood during the day. Maybe you should try being outside exposed to UV rays versus being in the shade outside…

    There’s also the question whether sunlight is a conditioned stimulus; we react with positive emotion because we associate it with freedom as children (Rain rain go away), and warmth. I don’t think in desert cultures people love sunny days… It may be that being out in “beautiful” sunny days lifts mood, which enhances sleep. So I’d be curious to see if being outside on cloudy days has the same effect.

    God science is complicated and hard — but the knowledge can change your life.

  2. I have noticed that on days I lay out in the sun for a minimum of one hour, I sleep like a baby. Other days, I don’t sleep well at all. Unfortunately, I live in an area where we get rough winters. I am going to try,however, to be out in the winter on sunny days to see if that still enhances my sleep. I wish I could bottle whatever it is that helps me sleep.

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