How to Use Sunlight to Get Better Sleep

Last Updated on June 7, 2024

by Marc Werner, Founder - GhostBed

When you're desperate for a good night of sleep, you'll try just about anything to get rest. While sleeping pills, white noise machines or elaborate bedtime routines may help, what if the answer is simpler?

It turns out strategically using sunlight may help you get the R&R you're looking for.

Woman sitting in sunlit window.

How Lack of Sunlight Affects Your Sleep

Sunlight is essential for regulating your circadian rhythm, which is the internal “clock” that helps your body know when it's time to sleep and wake up.

Without regular exposure to sunlight, your body has fewer cues for when to go to bed.

The sun is also responsible for balancing some of the hormones and vitamins that help you drift off at night—more on that soon—so it's critical to get outside.

How to Introduce Sunlight Into Your Routine

Let's start with the obvious. While some sunlight is healthy, too much can be dangerous. So don't worry: No one is telling you good sleep requires roasting under the midday sun.

In fact, some of the most beneficial times to get sunlight for sleep are when the sun is low in the sky and less likely to burn your skin.

Woman sips coffee under the morning sun.

Morning Sunlight

Getting sunlight first thing in the morning helps your body understand it's time to be alert and awake. It's also essential for regulating your circadian rhythm.

To get the best results, go outside as soon as you wake up. (Yes, before checking your phone or computer.)

If you need to make a cup of coffee first, just be sure to get out there in the first hour. Getting outside at the same time each morning is even more preferable.

Experts recommend staying outside for at least 30 minutes, though longer is fine too!

It's worth noting that this is not the time to wear sunglasses. You want that beneficial morning light to hit the light-sensitive cells in your eyes, which send important signals to your brain for regulating your internal clock.

If it's not too cold out, it's also ideal to let the morning sun hit your skin, which is important for the synthesis of Vitamin D.

Your body especially loves the blue light present in morning sunlight, which suppresses melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and signals it's time to get energized.

Woman sits in the park under the midday sun.

Afternoon Sunlight

In most locations, sunlight is strongest in the afternoon between 12 pm and 4 pm. If you're uncomfortable exposing your body to sunlight during these hours (or have been advised not to be a health professional), that's fine! You can still reap the benefits of only morning and evening light.

That said, moderate doses of afternoon sunlight can be excellent for regulating sleep. It's especially good at regulating cortisol, a stress hormone that can wreak major havoc on your rest when it's out of balance.

Plus, dosing up on midday sun can promote alertness, help your body understand it's still daytime, and give your mood a boost. It's a win-win-win.

A Note on Afternoon Sun Protection

When it comes to using sun protection during your afternoon exposure, use your best judgment.

While the goal is to get some light in your eyes to send those helpful signals to your brain, there's no need to avoid sunglasses if you can't see well or if the light is bright enough to hurt your eyes.

A good compromise is to use sunglasses with a lighter tint that still allows some sunlight through.

Similarly, your sunscreen use is going to be dependent on your unique situation. A sunburn is never beneficial to your health, and we don't suggest spending long periods in the sun without sunscreen.

However, sunscreen does block some of the UV radiation that contributes to Vitamin D synthesis.

Most medical professionals agree that 15 - 20 minutes in the sun (depending on your skin tone and sensitivity) without sunscreen is appropriate for loading up on the sun's benefits without causing harm.

If you're just starting out with afternoon sun exposure, start with small doses—just a couple minutes at a time—and work your way up to more. There's no rush; your health is always the priority.

If you're uncomfortable heading outdoors without sunscreen, that's okay too. You'll still reap the benefits of sunlight in your eyes, which can lead to better sleep.

Man watches the sunset over the ocean.

Evening Light

As if you needed another reason to watch the sunset, getting some early evening light can be beneficial for sleep.

The best time to get out is during “golden hour”—that hour before sunset when everything is cast in a pretty, yellow hue. You'll still get some Vitamin D synthesis during this time. And evening light helps regulate melatonin production.

Plus, you'll be exposed to something beautiful and soothing before you turn in for the night.

What to Do if You Live in an Area with Little Sunlight

Not all of us live in areas with abundant sunlight, and even the sunniest locations get darker in autumn and winter. So what do you do?

First, know that all of the above advice still applies to you. Even if the sunlight in your area is weak, you can still benefit from it.

So take advantage of natural light as much as possible. If the clouds break long enough to let a little light through, hit pause on your workday to spend 5 or 10 minutes soaking in the rays.

(We promise the emails will be there when you get back!)

Do your best to let natural light into your home by keeping curtains and blinds open and positioning yourself near a window. You can still reap the benefits of the light that's filtered through even the most ominous clouds.

You can also be strategic about your lightbulb use. There are many full-spectrum, “daylight-mimicking” light bulbs on the market that make it easier to create a natural experience for your body. Plus, you can look into light gadgets like SAD lamps, sunset lamps and more.

And if all else fails, just remember to stick to a regular routine. Your body thrives when you wake up and go to bed at the same time every day and it will likely reward you with better sleep.

Man checks his phone while walking outside.

A Note on Blue Light

Not only are many of us staying inside all day, but we're doing it while working on computers and phones. These devices emit blue light, which suppresses melatonin, a hormone that promotes healthy sleep.

The double whammy of too much blue light and not enough sunlight can be a big contributor to those late nights staring at the ceiling.

So in addition to getting some daylight, consider being mindful of your blue light exposure. Read a book (or, better yet, go for a walk!) on your lunch break instead of scrolling on your phone. Or, try making your after-work hours screen-free.

You may also consider investing in a trendy pair of blue light glasses, but at this time, there's little evidence they work.

A Healthier Lifestyle for Better Sleep

At the end of the day, getting good sleep requires being mindful of your lifestyle all day long. That includes getting enough sunlight and making sure to keep your stress low. Here at GhostBed, we want to support you in your mission to rest well and wake up rejuvenated, which is why we created the GhostBed Massage.

The first massage mattress of its kind, the GhostBed Massage uses air cell technology to stretch and massage your muscles, leading to the perfect bedtime routine or peaceful morning. Combined with making other smart choices–like getting outside daily–it can help you get better sleep at night.

Marc Werner - Founder, GhostBed

Marc Werner

Founder - GhostBed

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Marc has spent the last two decades designing & manufacturing mattresses and other sleep products, drawing on a lifetime of experience working with the material sciences. With several patents to his name, he works closely with the GhostBed team to create products with the perfect balance of comfort & support. Learn More

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