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Letting in the Light

By Andrea Vannelli

 

According to the Chinese solar calendar, February 4th of this year marked the first day of spring. Considering this coincided with a cold snap of weather dipping into the single Fahrenheit digits, it can be hard to relate. But the ancient Chinese scholars were wise observers of nature’s rhythms. This particular change of season marks the halfway point between the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the spring equinox, which is when we can expect the day to be equally divided between light and dark hours. Thinking in these terms, the Chinese spring denotes an increased momentum for growing daylight. This represents the annual wakening from winter’s slumber, and preparation for the more obvious manifestations of springtime energetics including a thawing of ice, the emergence of green sprouts, and the earliest stirrings of insects. We experience this dynamic as an upward and outward growth, as characterized by the element of wood. I like to imagine this as similar to the way most plants instinctively reach toward the sun. 

 

In alignment with the season, this is a good time of year to increase sun exposure. Sunlight is so important for enhancing brain signals and charging our batteries. Getting a bit of sunlight on your face every morning is a great practice, if only for a few moments. Ideally, this can happen around sunrise, but anytime before 10 am is good. This helps to “turn on” the HPA axis, signaling to the body that it’s daytime and time to produce daytime hormones, neurotransmitters and chemicals. Be sure to leave the eye protection behind so your brain can be exposed to the full spectrum of light information, which is necessary to properly set the body clock. Please note that the first signal the brain gets will set a tone for the rest of the day. See if your first light can be from the sun rather than a cell phone or other artificial sources. 

 

Early morning sunlight consists primarily of far infra-red light, with little to no UV light. Not only is early light not harmful to skin health, studies show it actually preconditions our skin to protect us from the UVA and UVB light that comes out later in the day. Something to keep in mind for the upcoming summer!

 

Even better is to get some sun exposure in the mid-day as well. This is important for mitochondrial health and the production of neurotransmitters. It essentially provides a boost to energy and mood levels. Morning and mid-day sunlight exposures prime the pineal gland to produce melatonin in the evening, which prepares us to have a deeper and more restful sleep. The corollary to this is to reduce artificial light at night, especially the blue light from screens and fluorescent lights, both of which deplete electrons and are junky for the body’s mitochondrial health. 

 

If you’re typically a night owl, try incorporating this morning and mid-day sunlight routine to help you feel ready for sleep at an earlier hour. When the cortisol-melatonin rhythm is optimized, there is a downstream benefit for pretty much all of the body’s hormones and brain signals. This means more growth hormones, more productive mitochondria, increased antioxidant activity, better blood glucose regulation, and more stable resources for sex hormones. 

 

Shifting gears takes energy, and if our reserves are low then it’s common to feel sluggish or even depressed at the outset. Consistency is more important than intensity, and it’s ok to start this practice slowly, as nature often does. Here’s wishing you a healthy new year. 

 

Resources

 

Hoel, D. G., Berwick, M., de Gruijl, F. R., & Holick, M. F. (2016). The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermato-endocrinology8(1), e1248325. https://doi.org/10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325

 

Mead M. N. (2008). Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health. Environmental health perspectives116(4), A160–A167. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.116-a160

 

Sommer A. P. (2020). Mitochondrial solar sensitivity: evolutionary and biomedical implications. Annals of translational medicine, 8(5), 161–166. doi: 10.21037/atm.2019.11.100

Zimmerman S. and Reiter R. J. 2019. Melatonin and the Optics of the Human Body. Melatonin Research, 2(1), 138–160. doi: 10.32794/mr11250016