Scrolling through social media, you may have noticed a growing trend of people discussing the surprising benefits of exposing their retinas to sunlight (particularly in the morning) and most of all - without their sunglasses. It's a revelation that turns conventional wisdom on its head (don’t look at the sun, don’t forget sunscreen!) and one that challenges our preconceived notions about sun exposure. According to a study conducted by the University of Kansas School of Medicine, these photoreceptors are essential for human physiology and overall well-being too. Their impact extends beyond just the brain, actually influencing the health of the entire body!
Today, we're about to unravel the truth behind this newfound health trend. From vitamin D absorption and eye health to regulating our circadian rhythm, boosting emotional well-being, nurturing brain health, and beyond, the untapped potential of the sun is nothing short of remarkable and we can’t wait to share with you what we have learned.
First up, the benefits. Let’s start with circadian rhythm and even the CDC have commented on this.
What's so fascinating is that reduced sunlight exposure in sighted individuals can have profound effects on sleep and overall well-being. It can lead to insomnia, disrupted circadian rhythms, flattened hormonal profiles, and cognitive difficulties. However, the good news is that these effects are reversible with the restoration of adequate sunshine.
Improving Alertness and Reduced Insomnia
Morning light offers a host of benefits for our alertness and sleep quality. By exposing ourselves to bright light in the morning, we can experience heightened alertness and increased energy levels throughout the day. This is especially beneficial for those who struggle with morning grogginess. Additionally, morning light plays a crucial role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle, making it easier for us to fall asleep earlier in the evening. This natural remedy has shown promising results in reducing or even eliminating insomnia, allowing for a more restful and consistent sleep experience.
Increasing Melatonin Production
Morning sunlight hitting the specific part of your retina triggers a chain reaction, stimulating melatonin production by your mitochondria. Melatonin, the "sleep hormone," is influenced by sunlight exposure on retinal cells, particularly in darkness. Increased melatonin release, achieved through bright and consistent morning sunlight, promotes restorative sleep, and can help us sleep better ‘naturally’. Interestingly, it has been observed that brighter and consistent sunlight exposure leads to increased melatonin production at night, promoting a deeper and more restful sleep
And what else? Reduced circadian amplitudes not only impact our sleep patterns but also pose higher risks of developing cancer and other diseases, and protecting less well against cell damage from free radicals and cancer-causing gene mutations. So, ditch your sunglasses and embrace the dance between your eyes and the sun to enhance your circadian rhythm, deepen your sleep, and unlock a range of health benefits too.
Next up, let’s talk about Vitamin D.
The power of sunlight on the retina for the vital role in the synthesis of vitamin D cannot be overlooked either. Vitamin D is SO crucial for SO many things within our bodies, and studies show that even small amounts of bright indirect sunlight can help in the production of vitamin D. This is because Ultraviolet B rays (UVB) present in the sun's rays stimulate the production of vitamin D when the skin (and eyes!) are exposed to sunlight.
Sufficient levels of vitamin D have numerous benefits, including strengthening the immune system, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, combating certain types of cancer, promoting healthy bone development, and enhancing skin health too. In addition to the production of vitamin D, sunlight exposure has been associated with protection against various conditions and diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and different types of cancers. While the creation of vitamin D in your body is considered a significant contributor to these protective effects, new research is also suggesting that the sunlight also influences the circadian clock, immune response modification, and the formation of nitric oxide, melatonin, and serotonin too! Sunlight is multifunctional AF!
Next, let’s talk about eye health.
Eye Health (including Myopia)
So, with many of us having been taught that sunlight is seen to be harmful to the eyes, recent research is actually disproving that. This research indicates that it may actually have beneficial effects on eye health, particularly in relation to myopia (which is nearsightedness). Another crazy stat is that nearsightedness is increasing worldwide, with projections suggesting that half of the global population will be nearsighted by 2050! So, what’s the solution?
Research is actually showing that spending more time outdoors in intense light, irrespective of near work or parental myopia, is linked to a reduced risk of developing or progressing myopia in children. Scientists are currently investigating the bioenvironmental factors underlying this protective effect, and emerging evidence points to the potential role of visible light, particularly sunlight!
Studies are suggesting that this is because visible light stimulates the release of dopamine from the retina, which in turn inhibits excessive elongation of the eyeball which is actually the underlying cause of myopia. Sunlight, with its broad spectrum including violet and blue light, seems to provide advantages in combating myopia progression. In fact, research suggests that violet light (360 nm to 400 nm) may have a suppressive effect on myopia too.
Finally, recent studies indicate that a lack of direct sunlight exposure may negatively impact eye development and impair vision. Sunlight may be essential for normal eye development in children and could potentially help reduce the incidence of nearsightedness too.
You might know that the lack of sun in winter is one of the key drivers for seasonal depression for many. This is because decreased sun exposure can lead to lower serotonin levels and serotonin is associated with positive emotions and reducing or even eliminating depression. So, as a daily mental health hack, exposing yourself to morning sunlight can help regulate serotonin release, and numerous studies support the role of serotonin in depression treatment too. Sunlight exposure has been associated with reduced depression and can help combat symptoms of Alzheimer's, dementia, and other neuropsychiatric conditions.
Studies also show how it can help with increasing brain serotonin levels, improving mood, alertness, and cognitive function too. But, how to utilize the sun properly? The answer is understanding how to sun gaze. Here is the Agent guide to sun gazing, safely.
How to sun gaze properly
Prepare your schedule: Choose a time within 30 minutes after sunrise and before sunset, when the UV index is lowest. These times are ideal for starting and ending your day.
Don't wear glasses: Remove glasses or contact lenses while sun gazing to avoid filtering the sun's rays. Ensure there are no glass window panes blocking your vision (GET OUTSIDE and, if possible, get your feet on the ground for some extra grounding too!).
Time your gaze properly: For beginners, start with just 10 seconds of sun gazing. Gradually increase your time by 10 to 15 minutes, but do not exceed 30 minutes. Always avoid sun gazing during midday when the UV index is higher. If the sun is too bright, shift your focus by 15 degrees on either side. Once your eyes adjust, you can gradually refocus on the sun. Remember to relax, blink, and avoid eye strain.
And on cloudy days? Even when the sun is hiding behind clouds, you can still practice sun gazing. Locate the position of the sun behind the clouds and gaze at it to receive the benefits.
At Agent, we love to take a moment of gratitude when sun gazing too.
So, the next time you step outside in the morning, consider letting the sunshine in and allowing its natural benefits to unfold. Embracing this simple yet powerful practice can have a profound impact on your overall well-being and sleep quality. It's time to let the sunshine in, my friend. Your well-being will thank you for it.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST***