We’re being treated to the longest days of the year right now in the Northern Hemisphere. In coastal New England, where I live, the sun is setting close to nine o’clock in the evening. All this daylight leaves plenty of time for boat rides, trail walks, and evening concerts at the park. For those of us with long winters, these long sunny days are especially fleeting and precious.
Soaking up all this extended daylight can help improve your sleep, with a little bit of know-how.
Load up on Vitamin D. Many of us, especially those of us who live in central and northern areas of the U.S., are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency. Large-scale studies estimate that as much as 50 percent of the general population is deficient in Vitamin D. The body produces Vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. We also get Vitamin D from foods, fish, eggs, and dairy. You probably know that a lack of Vitamin D can hurt bone and heart health, as well as mood.
Did you know Vitamin D also plays an important part in healthy sleep? Lack of Vitamin D may reduce the amount of sleep you get, and make sleep more restless, according to research. To stock up on Vitamin D during the summer months, experts recommend spending a few minutes outside during the midday sun, without sunscreen, to allow your body to soak up the Vitamin-D producing rays.
Take advantage of morning sun. Sunrise in my corner of the world is happening before 5 a.m. these days. I’m not getting up quite that early, but I am taking advantage of this early morning light to jump into the day. When it comes to sleep, morning is prime time for sun exposure. A recent study found people who are exposed to morning sun sleep more soundly, experience less stress and feel less depressed than people who don’t get morning rays.
Why does morning sun matter? This early-in-the-day light exposure syncs the body’s sleep clock, which times itself to the 24-hour cycle of the sun. Morning light sends the message loud and clear to the body: it’s time to get up. That means you’re more alert during the day, and more ready for sleep at night.
Don’t sacrifice sleep at night. Summer isn’t always easy on sleep. It’s often uncomfortably hot, and the days and nights are packed with activity. At a biological level, all the summer sunlight spread out over these long days means the body has less time to make melatonin, a hormone that’s essential for sleep. Our bodies start making melatonin in darkness, so when it’s light outside at 9 or 10 p.m., that can easily translate into later bedtimes and less rest overall.
How do you not wind up exhausted and sleep deprived in the summer? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends tricking our bodies into thinking it’s darker than it is, by wearing sunglasses in the evening sun and drawing blinds in the house while it’s still light. They also suggest making sure our bedrooms stay cool (as well as dark), and giving ourselves some extra time in the evenings to wind down before bedtime.
I’m going to enjoy every bit of these sunny long days—wearing my sunglasses at night.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds