There are a lot of things you might groggily reach for when you wake up first thing in the morning, like your phone, a cup of coffee or a toothbrush to spare innocent bystanders from your foul-smelling breath.
But if you’re like Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, you probably reach for your shoes so you can immediately run outside and get some sunlight. Yes, grabbing some quick morning sun is one of the best and easiest wellness hacks to quickly improve your mental and physical health.
On an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, Huberman explained that viewing sunlight, ideally without sunglasses, for two to 10 minutes after waking up is a vital habit to develop, mostly because it triggers the first dopamine release of the day. Moreover, from there, a little exercise, food and interaction with people or pets can further let your brain and body know you’re ready to start the day.
When it comes to setting our circadian clocks, light is critical, as it releases the stress hormone cortisol, which acts as a “wake-up signal and will promote wakefulness and the ability to focus throughout the day,” per Huberman. Though cortisol has gained a bad reputation for its links to weight gain and a variety of stress-related health issues, Huberman notes that this cortisol release is going to occur regardless. And so, waking up with the help of a few rays of sunshine channels it for good.
Multiple studies have confirmed that morning exposure to natural light improves sleep at night and alertness throughout the day, which are both core aspects of stable mental health. Likewise, vitamin D through sun exposure has been linked with a lower risk of depression overall.
Other research has shown that exposure to light at night — typically from our phones or computers — can mess with our cortisol clocks, increasing the risk for depression and other mental health issues. But by shifting that cortisol dump to earlier in the day via morning light exposure, you may be able to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, while also getting that added dopamine release.
So it’s not so much that you should rise and shine, but rise and get some sunshine.