Discover more from Stephen's People
Are you sleep deprived? Let the sun into your brain.
(No. 131) Plus, old musicians make seriously new music
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Friday night I saw a band of old men perform here in New York. As I watched the three core members, who were my age and older play, I marveled at the level of experience, wisdom and musical connection they shared. Beautiful to see them making incredible ambient cowboy music (I’m not sure they would describe it that way) that transported me to new dimensions. I really got lost in the performance. Here’s a bit of it:
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Do you wake in the middle of the night? Sunlight’s miraculous, free, anti-aging powers might help.
For the last year, I’ve been trying to improve my sleep, which is often interrupted by me waking up around 3 am. Usually, I’ll either read and fall back asleep, or toss and turn fighting off dark madrugada thoughts. But sometimes I’ll just get up and start my workday. I don’t like that. Jogging or lifting weights, laying off coffee after about noon, not eating dinner after 6, and avoiding my phone when I’m trying to go to sleep have all helped. But I’m suspicious that out of balance hormone levels are waking me in the middle of the night.
I’m turning towards the light to solve that problem.
Soon after dawn this morning I went up on the roof of my building to drink coffee and welcome the sunlight. I’m trying to reset how my body produces and uses cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that helps regulate many processes within the body, including our stress response, and how our metabolism works. Letting early morning light bathe our eyes and skin can lead to higher levels of cortisone in the morning and lower levels in the evening -- and many believe it can help ease 3 am wake-ups.
Noted neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman, says light is one of the top five factors guiding our overall health and well being, along with sleep, movement, nutrients and relationships. He writes: “Light directly impacts our mood, our sleep, our ability to wake up and focus, our hormone levels, our immune system and our ability to cope with stress.” Given that sunlight is free, and effective, it's clearly a great tool for boosting mental and physical health. That makes it a valuable tool for managing the symptoms of aging.
It’s best to view sunlight outdoors in the first hour or so after waking, preferably as soon as you wake up. Looking through a window won’t work, as the glass will block some helpful rays. The angles of the sun change as the day passes, and morning light has special qualities. The light entering your eyes, even if it is cloudy, will increase cortisol release early in the day that actually helps the body get to sleep at night. About 10-15 minutes of bright light and maybe 20 minutes of cloudy light is all that’s necessary to trigger your body to release cortisol. Don’t overdo it, as too much sun exposure can damage your skin. This is part of regulating the inner clock that tells you when to get up and eat and sleep. It will also improve your immune system.
Curiously, the light entering your eyes in the hour before sunset will also help you sleep, just as sunrise does. Just remember not to look directly at the sun! You can hurt your eyes.
I have to confess that I first wrote about the relationship between morning and evening sun and sleep nearly 40 years ago when I was a health writer for Rodale Press. So I’ve known this forever. And I’ve ignored it. Crazy. But now I’m wiser, like all of us, right? I’m going to pay attention to the sun.