Weird but true: When you wear sunglasses outside, it increases your likelihood of getting a sunburn. Yes, seriously. As Sharon Moalem MD, PhD explains it, daylight entering your eyes signals the body to produce melanocyte stimulating hormone, which tells your body to increase production of melanin, a protective skin pigment that reduces our absorption of UV radiation. (source) If our eyes don’t get the message because we have sunglasses on, our body’s protective response is diminished.
Also weird but true: Light does a lot more than tell us when to increase melanin levels. Bright early morning light – either outdoors or inside using light therapy devices – can activate a cascade of positive effects, including:
- increased focus and alertness during the day
- deeper, more restorative sleep at night
- improved mood due to increases in serotonin and other neurotransmitters
- improved adaptation to different time zones when traveling (source: Harvard Health Publications, source 2)
You see, when our eyes take in the right kind of light at the right time of day, it switches on responses in our bodies that affect our emotional health, how deeply we sleep, our weight, hormonal balance, overall health, and more.
Here’s how Dr. Breus, who is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the author of The Power of When, puts it:
In the morning, sunlight comes into your eyeballs, travels along the optic nerve, and activates the SCN to begin each day’s circadian rhythm. The SCN is the master clock that controls dozens of other clocks throughout your body. Over the course of the day, your core temperature, blood pressure, cognition, hormonal flow, alertness, energy, digestion, hunger metabolism, creativity, sociability, and athleticism, and ability to heal, memorize and sleep, among many other functions, fluctuate according to and are governed by the commands of your inner clocks.”
Obviously, the simplest way to align your body clock is to hop out of bed and go for a 30-60 minute walk every morning. However, if you’re like me and you live in Parent Land where dirty dishes materialize out of thin air and you spend most of your time “watching this,” that’s not always practical.
Light Therapy For Real Life
My first attempt to realign my circadian rhythm was to buy this daylight lamp and put it on the kitchen table in the morning. My kids sit under it and work on art projects while I start breakfast. My plan was to join them and sit for 30 minutes or so planning my day, but that didn’t usually happen.
I need to be mobile in the morning – starting laundry, pulling out a chicken to roast later, etc. – so I invested in a pair of Re-Timer glasses.
Why? Because they’re AWESOME. Maybe not as a fashion statement, but certainly as a way to increase mental alertness, mood and improve sleep. They were developed by an Australian university and are currently listed as CNN’s #1 gift idea for travelers because they’re ability to help realign the circadian rhythm is helpful for people who hop time zones often. (They’ve also been featured by Forbes and the The Wall Street Journal.)
Re-Timers use blue-green light, which research suggests is more effective than white light typically used in light boxes. (source)
Of all the things I’ve tried to get a better night’s sleep – and I’ve tried a few – these glasses have made one of the most noticeable differences. Within a few days of wearing them I started waking up naturally (with no alarm clock) within five minutes of my optimal wake time each morning. A few days after that I started texting my husband things like “My brain is alllllliiiivve!” . . . and then he started using them, too. 🙂
Don’t Forget The Flipside
As important as it is to get blue/green light in the day, it’s equally important to avoid it at night. That’s why I’ve mentioned the orange glasses I wear after sundown. Our bodies respond to blue light no matter when it occurs – in the daytime it’s great for keeping us alert, but at night it can block the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Scientific American recommends going camping to realign the body clock. I hope to do that this spring, but since I’m not ready to live outdoors all the time, I am grateful that the Re-Timer glasses and my blue light blocking glasses help my body’s clock stay on schedule, producing the right hormones at the right time of day.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Questions about light therapy? Leave them in the comments below!