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As a notorious night owl, this trick has helped me be more productive when the day begins.

| By Rachael Thompson | Journal

The One Thing That Turned Me Into a 'Morning Person'

As a notorious night owl, this trick has helped me be more productive when the day begins.

Don’t hate me, but I love mornings. I’m usually in a good mood and love getting up to exercise and prepare myself for the day ahead. But I never used to be this person. In fact, I distinctly remember travelling with one of my closest friends when I was in my early 20s and being horrified when upon waking, she was energised and rearing to go and I was desperate for another hour of snooze time. Becoming a morning person is a fairly recent development for me – within the last six months – and I’ve realised what prompted the change.

One of my priorities when finding a rental home is natural light. I feel so much happier when I’m in a home that’s bright and airy. This was one of the big drawcards for the apartment I moved into six months ago. I may have wished for this too hard though because the extremely cheap blinds “installed” in each room don’t work properly.

When it came to my east-facing bedroom, I gave up on attempting to close the blinds even slightly (thankfully I'm high up and no one can see in… I don’t think). This has meant that every morning the sun aggressively starts streaming into my bedroom and bouncing off the mirrored cupboards, just after 6am – the time that has now become my automatic wake-up time. Since this has started happening, it’s actually felt surprisingly good to wake up each morning.

As someone who for years has also struggled with falling and staying asleep, I’ve also noticed that these issues have improved. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Having sunlight wake me up has been a major contributor to me becoming a morning person and feeling more motivated at the start of each day. I also believe it’s helped regulate my sleep patterns.

As it turns out, science also agree.

Does sunlight help you wake up and fall asleep faster?

The body's 24-hour cycle – its circadian rhythm – is guided by light. This means that light impacts behaviours such as sleep and wakefulness. When you get morning sunlight, specialised cells in your retinas tell your brain to stop making the sleep hormone melatonin. Light will even pass through your eyelids when you’re asleep and signal the circadian pacemaker.

Research has found that light powerfully affects melatonin production. Melatonin production occurs sooner when people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, allowing them to enter into sleep more easily at night.

For Andrew Huberman, an associate professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine, morning sunlight viewing is in his top five actions for supporting mental health, physical health, and performance.

In a post on X, Huberman explains how morning sunlight affects our cortisol levels. "Viewing morning sunlight increases morning cortisol levels by 50%, which is a good thing (early in the day) because it increases immune function, alertness, and ‘sets’ a timer to fall asleep ~14-16 hours later."

In his Huberman Podcast episode ‘Sleep Toolkit: Tools for Optimizing Sleep & Sleep-Wake Timing’, he recommends getting outside within one hour of waking – ideally within five minutes if possible – to get bright sunlight into your eyes. He advises 5-10 minutes of bright sunlight on sunny mornings and 15 to 20 minutes on cloudy mornings.

This doesn’t mean you should or need to stare directly into the sun and damage your eyes. For you, this could mean getting out for a walk in the morning or sitting outside to enjoy your breakfast/coffee.

What to do when there is no sun

For those who have very limited natural light in their bedrooms, or those who live in areas with extended periods of darkness during winter, it’s obviously more difficult to wake up with the sun or to get a good amount of sunlight in the morning.

If your goal is to be awake, Huberman suggests flicking on artificial lights and then getting outside as soon as the sun has risen. You could use a sunrise alarm clock to mimic natural light. He does however say that artificial light won’t have the same effects of turning on the cortisol mechanism and other wake-up mechanisms that you need early in the day as natural light will.

What to do if your bedroom doesn’t get dark at night

Sleeping in the dark is critical for getting a good night's sleep. The catch-22 is if you don’t close your blinds at night you may have artificial light shining into your room. If this is the case, you’re best bet is to have your room as dark as possible and then as soon as you get up in the morning head straight outside to get natural light into your eyes to make you feel awake. You can also use a sunrise alarm clock or ensure that when you wake up each morning your priority is to open your blinds.

The takeaway

If you're looking to improve your sleep-wake cycle and you're not already getting plenty of light in the morning, it's probably something worth considering. Such a simple act has been a total game-changer for me and helped me kickstart my days in a more productive manner. I don't actually plan on asking the real estate agent again to fix the broken blinds now.

By maximising the amount of natural light that comes into your bedroom each morning, you can help regulate your body’s internal clock which can help promote better sleep at night and a more refreshed feeling in the morning.

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