Biologically speaking, sunlight is the original #1 brain hack. Since the beginning of human history, people have lived and worked outdoors during the light of day, absorbing nature’s light — the sun. Following the advent of Edison’s long-lasting light bulb, over the last 150 years or so, people have moved indoors, away from the natural light that so faithfully regulated our circadian rhythms (body clock) and energized our brain cells and our bodies.
Advances in lighting research have unlocked an enormous amount of knowledge about how we can control ourselves with light. We are adapted to very specific lighting conditions: bright balanced, full-spectrum light during the day and low level fire-light in the evening followed by darkness. This rhythm of light and dark is what drives our circadian clock. According to the quality and quantity of light received, key hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin are released in the brain to set our daily rhythms that control appetite, energy, mood, sleep and other body-mind functions.
Scientific research has proven that our circadian rhythms are dependent upon light entering our eyes to regulate our body’s master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. Every cell in the body has its own “clock” that regulates aspects such as its rate of energy use. The SCN synchronizes these individual timekeepers so that, for example, people feel sleepy at night and alert during the day, are hungry at mealtimes, and are prepared for the energy influx that hits fat cells after eating.
Disregarding the biological adaptation to light is a recipe for poor health because so much of our biology is regulated and influenced by various wavelengths of light. Unfortunately for millions of people, the advent of the computer age has created an indoor lifestyle of ‘contemporary cave dwellers’ that are unwittingly starving for light. Weight gain, poor sleep, depression and fatigue are some of the serious side effects associated with being out of sync with the natural rhythm and radiant energy of light.
A wonderful way to prevent daytime sleepiness and keep your circadian rhythms intact is to start each morning with sunlight (or full-spectrum light) and go for a walk outside in bright sunlight at lunch time. When it starts to get dark outside, reduce the amount (brightness) of light in your environment so your brain gets the signal that it is no longer the middle of the day.
It’s equally important to reduce your use of ‘blue light emitting’ electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and TV about an hour or so prior to bedtime. Too much light at night, especially blue wavelengths, inhibits the production of the sleep hormone; melatonin. Absorbing daily sunlight or balanced full-spectrum light when indoors is an ideal brain hack for enhanced cognitive function and optimum wellness.