Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman swears by morning sunlight every day. Here's why an expert says it's as important to health as diet and exercise.

  • Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman frequenlty promotes daily sunlight on his popular podcast.

  • An expert says exposure to daylight can help keep the body's circadian rhythm on track.

  • An hour spent outdoors is ideal, and a half hour minimum, one expert said.

Just about every morning, right after rolling out of bed, I go for a walk outside in the sunlight and leave my sunglasses at home.

Why? Because Andrew Huberman told me to.

The Stanford University neuroscientist behind the hugely popular "Huberman Lab" podcast talks frequently about the importance of getting outside and viewing sunlight in the morning.

In a recent post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Huberman said morning sunlight was among what he considers to be the six pillars of health, along with daily movement, nutrition, stress control, healthy relationships, and quality sleep.

"Circadian health is truly the foundation," he wrote, referring to the circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour biological clock in the human brain.

Almost immediately after starting this morning walk practice, which for me ranges from 10 to 30 minutes, I started seeing results. I felt more awake and alert immediately after the walk, and, to be frank, happier and less grumpy. The grogginess that I — someone with a lifelong aversion to mornings — typically felt upon waking decreased substantially, and some days it wasn't present at all. I felt more motivated during the work day and, according to my Fitbit, I was actually sleeping better.

Of course, it's impossible to know if this is really because of my new routine. Still, I needed to know what exactly was going on — whether it was a placebo effect or some other factor, or if, as Huberman says, it really was thanks to exposing my eyes to daylight.

Turns out, Huberman's not alone among experts who swear by the importance of outdoor light.

"It's just as important as diet and exercise," Mariana G. Figueiro, professor and director of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai's Light and Health Research Center, told me.

Brighter days and darker nights

Figueiro, who researches the impacts of light on human health, sums it up plainly: brighter days and darker nights lead to a higher quality of life.

It all comes down to how light impacts the biological clocks in our brain, which regulate our circadian rhythms. "Without that light, especially morning light, what happens to the clock is it drifts a little bit, about 10 minutes a day," Figueiro said.

For example, if a person stayed in a dark cave with no light, after a few weeks their internal clock would be so thrown off it would think day was night and night was day. But being exposed to daylight helps reset the biological clock every 24 hours and keep it on track.

More people are familiar with the benefits of sunlight when it comes to vitamin D production, which involves the sunlight coming into actual contact with the skin. But for circadian regulation, Figueiro said it's actually about the light from your environment reaching the back of your eyes, which can happen even while sitting in the shade.

While it's possible to get benefits from artificial lighting, indoor light is typically nowhere near bright enough. Figueiro said on an average sunny day, you're going to get 100,000 lux, a unit used to measure light or illuminance. Even on a cloudy morning, you're likely to get 5,000 lux.

But in average indoor lighting, you might get 300 lux.

"Light in the built environment is not always strong enough to synchronize the biological clock," Figueiro said. "The beauty of daylight is that daylight is the right amount, it's the right color, it's on at the right time."

It's not just morning light but also evening darkness that is needed for proper circadian regulation. When you don't have that light-dark balance, the consequence is "circadian disruption."

Circadian disruption can cause issues like poor sleep, poor cognitive performance, and drowsiness during the day. Experiencing circadian disruption for extended periods of time has been associated with a weaker immune system and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

In a study published in 2014, Figueiro and her colleagues found that introducing specific lighting for Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes improved their sleep, depression, and levels of agitation over six months, even as their disease worsened.

a picture of a dog on a leash happily walking on a gravel path next to some grass. the owner is holding the leash, pictured from the knees down in athletic pants and shoes.
Walking your dog is a great way to get morning light outside.alexei_tm/Getty Images

An hour of daylight per day is ideal, or a half hour at minimum

Figueiro said an hour of daylight per day, or a half-hour minimum, is ideal, especially in the morning. She said she likes to get her daylight through her morning commute, whether she's walking or driving, during which she does not wear sunglasses, to ensure she's getting as much light intake as possible.

You might get your morning sunlight by walking your dog, eating your breakfast on your porch, or taking a morning meeting outside.

If you are spending increased time outdoors, you may want to wear sunscreen for skin cancer prevention, which will not impact the amount of light that gets into your eyes.

If you really can't get outside, you can also get some benefits from sitting in front of, and directly facing a bright window.

You can also break up the time you spend outside, such as a half hour in the morning and a half hour at lunch, though she notes morning sunlight is ideal for regulating the internal clock.

While outdoor light is best, artificial lighting can be used as a supplement, especially if you are indoors in a darker environment most of the day.

"The benefits of daylight is that it's so much, it's very inefficient to get that same amount with electric lighting," she said.

Supplementing with indoor lighting can be as simple as adding two to four table lamps to your work desk. For instance, Figueiro said you could add two lamps on either side of your computer with bulbs that deliver at least 3,000 lumens, which will be specified on the package. The key thing is that the light is bright, but it can be diffused, like with a lantern-style shade, so it's not shining directly into your face.

You can also try using light therapy boxes that are designed to treat seasonal affective disorder and mimic outdoor light. According to Mayo Clinic, which says you should talk to your health provider first, it's recommended to use the light for about 20 to 30 minutes within the first hour of waking up.

Even ten minutes of sunlight in the morning can have a positive impact, if that's all you can get, and whatever you do, it's best to try to be consistent.

"The most important thing is also regularity," Figueiro said, adding the biological clock likes to keep a consistent schedule. "Make sure you do it every day around the same time."

Read the original article on Insider