Timing Your Light, Food, & Exercise for Optimal Sleep, Energy & Mood


Key Takeaways

  • To improve mood and optimize sleep-wake cycle: view light in the morning and as much as possible during the day

  • Three components to get in order: mealtimes, light exposure, and sleep

  • Key is doing self-exploration to find ideal timing of meals, light exposure, and sleep that align with circadian rhythm – start by manipulating light exposure because that’s the most powerful driver of the other pieces

  • Daylight saving has a negative impact on sleep & wake cycles – it’s not just an hour per day, it’s a cumulative effect on the rhythm

  • Evening light exposure impacts sleep! Keep your home dim/dark. Keep to the minimum amount of light you need to see comfortably; explore using red light

  • The more we deviate from intrinsic rhythm, the more we see increased rates of depression, anxiety, adverse mental health outcomes

  • Light viewing and feeding behavior interact in ways that support one another: keep feeding times to most active points in circadian rhythm (i.e., during light)

Light Controls Circadian Rhythm

  • Light exposure has an unconscious influence on the level of the cell, behavior, circadian cycle

  • Sunlight exposure adjusts circadian rhythm and associated behavior to 24-hour periods

  • One of the strongest adaptations of survival is the adaptation to and anticipation of light

  • Light allows animals to anticipate seasonality

  • A landmark discovery in 2000 found that cells in the eye communicate day and night to the brain

  • Even blind people benefit from viewing light for regulation of circadian rhythm


  • Cones in the eye see color and adapt to varying intensities of light

  • Best way to interact with light: get outside (even on cloudy days it’s enough) 15 minutes daily shortly after waking, ideally without sunglasses

  • The circadian system needs to be synchronized to light/outdoors to know where you are in time

  • There is not enough research on artificial light to know the correct intensity – but it’s likely helpful to have exposure during the day

  • Sleep-wake cycles will suffer if you stay indoors and are not getting natural light

  • Camping experiment: studies have shown that camping for two days with no screens, sleeping and waking whenever feels natural – can adjust circadian rhythms

  • Can’t determine whether you are naturally an early bird or night owl? Get light exposure in the morning and see how you feel

  • Animals have a ‘light hunger’

  • Consider avoiding blue light blocking glasses because it’s changing natural optics of the eye and adaptation properties of the retina – just dim the blue and increase the warmness of the light

  • Evening light viewing tip: keep your home dim/dark, to the minimum amount of light you need to see comfortably; explore using red light

Relationship Between Light & Non-Circadian Effects

  • When you view light, it could make you feel happy/unhappy, stressed/less stressed, enhance learning/decrease learning, etc.

  • If you disrupt light, effects on stress are profound

  • The more we deviate from intrinsic rhythm, the more we see increased rates of depression, anxiety, and adverse mental health outcomes

  • Even if light exposure isn’t affecting the circadian clock, it might be affecting mood, focus, learning, stress, homeostasis

  • Suicide is highest in spring: theory is that lack of light in winter can cause depression so sunlight in spring gives people energy to act on feelings

  • Patients with bipolar disorder have more sensitivity to light

Effects Of Light On Appetite And Behavior

  • Light viewing and feeding behavior interact in ways that support one another

  • Tip: have regular meals times that fit your circadian clock

  • Most of the time we eat, it’s mostly because we just want to – not because we’re hungry

  • Tip #1: We make better food choices when we are not anticipating meals but have a set schedule (+/- 30 minutes)

  • Tip #2: Limit eating to active times of circadian rhythm (i.e., during the day)

Shifting Your Clock

  • Social rhythm affects sleep, how much you eat

  • Repeatedly staying up late can take about two weeks to recover

  • Travel Tip #1: Change mealtimes and adjust light exposure to advance and delay clock according to the time zone you will be traveling to

  • Travel Tip #2: Exercise, view light, and eat a meal first-morning post-travel


 

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