Illustrations: Alexis Jamet

Elemental Light Week

In Praise of Morning Light

Why early sunshine is a cure-all

Elemental
Published in
4 min readFeb 14, 2020

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This story is a part of Elemental Light Week, a five-day series on what light does for your body, brain, and well-being.

MyMy toddler son had a habit of waking at 5:30 a.m. for a two-year period. In the darkness, I’d run to his crib to stop his cries, rock him back to sleep, and carefully tiptoe out of the nursery and back into my bed.

Inevitably, four hours later, my son’s cry for breakfast would tear through whatever dream I was having, and I’d bolt up, half-awake. Even though I had caught up on some much-needed late-morning sleep, it didn’t matter. For the entire day I felt like I was dreaming.

“There’s no amount of coffee that can shake me out of this stupor,” I’d text my best mom friend, who no doubt was guzzling down her third latte. “I feel like I’m watching my life happen from behind glass.”

General sleep deprivation could account for a large part of my stupor. But there was another, seemingly smaller but still significant factor: I almost never woke up with the morning light. As a new mom desperate for shut-eye wherever I could find it, I pretty much always missed this page-turning phenomenon — which meant I was pretty much always groggy.

Sunshine isn’t just a symbolic and cheery way to welcome a new day. It’s a real, physiological human need. A 2019 study found that exposure to morning sunlight results in greater alertness. Morning light exposure can also lead to better sleep, which can have a cascade effect on mood the next day. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Sleep Health, people who are exposed to sunlight in the morning sleep better at night and feel less stressed and depressed than people who don’t get access to morning sunlight.

Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine training program at the University of Utah, says if people don’t get the right cues for wakefulness, the body will feel out of sync. The body’s circadian rhythm — basically, its internal clock — is naturally a little longer…

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Ashley Abramson
Elemental

Writer-mom hybrid. Health & psychology stories in NYT, WaPo, Allure, Real Simple, & more.