Healthy Living

This Free, 10-Minute Morning Routine Hack Honestly Changed My Life

better mood, digestion, energy, and sleep
written by MICHELLE LEMA
morning sunlight"
morning sunlight
Source: @yearofours
Source: @yearofours

I’m not the girl who will spend much time, money, or energy on my morning routine. All the wellness trends hitting my TikTok feed just make me feel overwhelmed, and I’m not a morning person. However, I added one simple daily habit after reading about its insane benefits in a blog post by neurologist and biohacker Dr. Andrew Huberman, and this habit immediately changed my mood and energy throughout the day. The simple daily habit is completely free, easy, enjoyable, and doesn’t take long: getting sunlight first thing in the morning. Keep reading to learn why this simple ritual is actually a powerful biohack, tips to implement it into your routine, and my experience.

Is morning sunlight good for you?

It’s easy to stay inside all day: Most of us work, eat, exercise, and relax indoors. However, taking the time to go outside and view sunlight soon after waking can have a variety of positive outcomes. You’ve probably heard about circadian rhythm, the internal clock that guides your body throughout the day and night as it responds to light and dark. According to Dr. Jesse Bracamonte, a Mayo Clinic family medicine physician, sunlight in the morning can help regulate your circadian rhythm by affecting various hormones for an array of benefits:

Increased cortisol and halted melatonin production for better energy

Sunlight boosts cortisol to help you feel more alert. You may think of increased cortisol as a negative, i.e., chronic cortisol, or when your body is in a constant state of stress. But cortisol is not just a stress hormone, it’s the awake hormone; cortisol is supposed to increase in the morning and naturally decline throughout the day as part of the circadian rhythm so the body knows when to stay awake and when to sleep. “Think about cortisol not as a stress hormone, but as a hormone of energy,” Dr. Huberman shared in a Huberman Lab podcast episode. Sunlight is the signal to increase this cortisol spike.

Sunlight also signals the body to stop the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), which reduces grogginess and fatigue. When you are not exposed to sunlight in the morning, the body may continue to produce melatonin or not produce enough cortisol, leading to fatigue or an energy slump.

Boosted serotonin for improved mood and digestion

Sunlight exposure increases serotonin, also called the “happy hormone.” Serotonin release is associated with lower anxiety and increased feelings of happiness and calm. As it relates to the circadian rhythm, the function of serotonin has to do with gut health and digestion. When it’s night (or the body perceives it’s night due to limited sunlight exposure), digestion slows down so we’re not waking up to make a bowel movement, and since we’re not typically eating through the night. Serotonin (mostly produced in the gut) helps control bowel function by speeding up digestion, and it’s triggered when the body is exposed to sunlight (AKA it’s day, and therefore time for the digestive system to speed up again).

Source: Maritu Vivas | Dupe

Why does it have to be first thing in the morning?

According to Dr. Huberman, you will always experience a peak in cortisol levels once every 24 hours. If you have a balanced and healthy circadian rhythm, that peak should happen first thing in the morning. When that peak happens soon after waking, it helps sustain your energy throughout the day, and then trails off throughout the next 12 hours so cortisol levels are low at night to be able to sleep. If the cortisol spike happens later in the day (you don’t get outside until noon or you don’t have any exposure to sunlight, so your cortisol levels peak only due to stress), it can lead to imbalanced energy throughout the day, or you may have too high of cortisol levels to fall asleep at night.

With serotonin production, you want your digestion to speed up as soon as possible after waking up to have a morning bowel movement for optimal digestion and detoxification, and to prepare for digesting food throughout the day.

How to add morning sunlight to your routine

The goal is to go outside and get sunlight as soon after waking up as possible. According to Dr. Huberman, you just need 5-10 minutes of exposure on a sunny day or 15-30 minutes on a cloudy day. That can look like taking a walk, sitting on a park bench, or sipping your coffee on your balcony (just make sure to wear your SPF!). If you wake up before the sun comes up, Dr. Huberman suggested turning on as many artificial lights as you can, then going outside for sunlight as soon as the sun rises. You can also use a sunrise alarm clock to simulate the sun for your wake-up call. 

There are also a few things to avoid to make the most out of your morning sunlight practice. Dr. Huberman recommended not wearing sunglasses or blue blockers during your morning sunlight viewing (that said, protect your eyes based on your doctor’s recommendation and be mindful of not looking directly at the sun as this can cause damage to your eyes). Getting sunlight through a window or windshield will take too long to be effective, so going outdoors to get direct sunlight is suggested, but if you can’t get outside, open up your blinds and curtains as soon as you can after your alarm goes off.

My experience getting morning sunlight for 30 days

Since I’m not a morning person and tend to hit snooze one too many times, I knew I would need some motivation to take on this new routine. I love listening to new music or an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, so I turned this wellness ritual into something I would look forward to (read: worth getting out of bed for) by going for a walk with my headphones. Pro tip: I pick out a playlist or episode the night before so I’m extra excited to wake up in the morning. On days when I don’t have time or don’t feel like going for a walk, I enjoy coffee and breakfast on my balcony instead of at my kitchen table.

I committed to trying this morning sunlight routine for a month. Within the first week, I noticed that I had more energy during the day—especially earlier in the day—than I used to. I was also able to focus on work for longer. An unexpected plus was that I was actually tired when it was time for bed (truly a rarity for me), and I fell asleep quickly most nights. To complete the domino effect, sleeping earlier and more soundly prevented me from hitting the snooze button as much. While I noticed the positive changes in my sleep and energy right away, I kept a daily journal to identify any shifts in mood over the month. Overall, I felt much more content; there were moments of inevitable stress, but I felt grounded and capable of taking them in stride. To me, this was a lesson that life-changing wellness does not have to cost a lot of money, feel difficult, or be unenjoyable. Optimizing your health can be as simple, easy, and quick as getting sunlight in the morning.