Exposure to Daylight and its Effects on Sleep

I have always been an outdoorsy mover; I prefer running on trails to the treadmill, ocean swimming to the pool (although lakes tend to be a better option around here!), and cycling on the road compared to a spin bike. So the shift to working outside with COVID-19 restrictions has actually been a blessing in disguise! There’s also something else I’ve been noticing: How it’s improving my sleep.

I took the above photo when doing hill intervals in my hometown on Lyttelton, New Zealand last year. So I guess you could say I had some inspiration to get outside and train from pretty early on in life!

I didn’t always value my sleep so much (I like to do All. The. Things. and sleep can feel like it’s impeding that), but it’s become increasingly important for me in the last 5 or so years. I encourage you to think about improving your sleep too, especially if you want to perform well in your chosen sport or field, or recover from injury. More on that another day.

With the “Work from home” orders, it’s fine when I’m working with international or distance clients (we’ve been doing this online for years, no sweat! Their gyms have just transformed from sports centres to living rooms with bands and dumbbells, that’s all!), but for a good portion of the week, I’m now outside all day. I’m trying to abide by the WFH orders by condensing my in-person client meetings over less days; being outside with clients 4 days a week instead of 5.

An interesting difference is emerging; I sleep better on the days where I work outside. There is the possibility that some of the long, slow cardio of my commute that is missing on that day contributes to this improved sleep. However, I train every day, so I’m inclined to think at least some effect could be from the reduced daylight hours when I’m working indoors.

I listened to a great podcast interviewing Matthew Walker, the Author of Why We Sleep (in het Nederlands: Slaap: Nieuwe wetenschappelijke inzichten over slapen en dromen). He spoke about how even on a cloudy day, the light outside is orders of magnitude brighter than indoor artificial light, even if we don’t realise it. If we’re not getting much daylight exposure during the day, it has an effect on our circadian rhythm; a natural bodily process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

If you want to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, one of his recommendations was to make simple changes to our exposure to daylight. If possible, get outside for at least 30-40 minutes earlier in the day, and ensure you’re exposed to lower light in the afternoon/evening (going outside again can help this, as the light intensity changes at that time, but consider keeping half your lights off or have them dimmed in the evening).  

For those you training outside: Are you finding it improves your sleep?

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