Doing this before looking at your phone each morning helps you fall asleep fast at night

A woman lays on her back in bed with her smartphone held in front of her face with two hands after waking up from a night's sleep
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Reaching for our phones is the first thing most of us do when we wake up after a night's sleep. But this daily habit of mindless scrolling before we even lift our heads off the pillow could be impacting our ability to fall asleep fast at night.

According to experts, getting natural sunlight exposure first thing each morning and crucially before you check your phone could be the answer to falling asleep faster later that night. This is because natural sunlight exposure first thing helps regulate circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock). 

Even if you have invested in the best mattress for your body, it can be difficult to fall asleep quickly and easily when your circadian rhythm is out of whack. Here, we’ll explore why getting natural sunlight exposure first thing in the morning (yes, before you dive into WhatsApp) is so important for nighttime sleep. 

How morning sunlight helps improve your sleep

Regulation of circadian rhythm 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are most susceptible to light levels within one hour of waking up, two hours before we go to bed, plus throughout the night. That means that exposure to sunlight, particularly first thing in the morning, helps regulate our circadian rhythm, which is our body’s internal body clock. 

Sunlight exposure helps to signal to our brains that it's time to wake up and be alert. This exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, which helps you feel more awake during the day. 

Improved sleep-wake cycle 

A woman sits up in bed drinking a cup of tea as sunlight streams in through her open curtains

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As with anything related to establishing healthy sleep schedules, consistency is the key. Opening your curtains wide and allowing natural light to flood your bedroom on a regular basis will help reinforce your body's understanding of when it's time to be awake and when it's time to sleep. 

By establishing a regular wake-up time and exposing yourself to sunlight within an hour of waking (instead of checking your phone in a dimly lit room), you reinforce this cycle, making it easier to fall asleep faster at night and wake up refreshed in the morning.

Enhanced melatonin production 

It might sound counterintuitive, but suppressing melatonin levels first thing in the morning through natural sunlight exposure will boost melatonin levels later that night. That’s because sunlight exposure triggers the production of serotonin, the mood-boosting hormone that makes us feel alert. 

Around two hours before bedtime, any remaining serotonin gets metabolized into melatonin, the hormone that helps prepare our brains and bodies for sleep. You can boost your body’s production of melatonin further by dimming the lights and turning off the tech (the blue lights emitted from our screen stem melatonin production), helping you to fall asleep faster. 

How to get more sunlight exposure

A woman with long dark hair sits up in bed with her arms stretched in the air as sunlight streams in through her open curtains

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now that we know that morning sunlight exposure is crucial to our sleep quality, you might be wondering how to increase your daylight exposure. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, we should aim for 30 minutes of daylight within an hour of waking. You can do this by: 

  • Opening your curtains wide: Opening your blinds or curtains allows sunlight into your bedroom 
  • Going for a walk or a jog: Getting outside first thing in the morning increases sunlight exposure
  • Setting your alarm earlier: Waking up earlier means you'll have time to eat your breakfast on your porch or in a sunny spot inside your home 

Natural light vs SAD lamp: Which is best for sleep? 

We’ve established that sunlight exposure within an hour of waking can improve our overall sleep quality. But what if you wake before the sun, live in a region with limited sunlight, or are a shift worker? 

While sunlight exposure is the preferred method of boosting serotonin levels first thing in the morning, a light therapy box is the next best thing. A light therapy box (also known as a S.A.D. lamp) mimics the effects of sunlight by emitting a bright light, and is often used to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Light therapy boxes are a useful alternative to natural sunlight for shift workers, or for those who require extra help in establishing a healthy sleep schedule during the darker winter months. 

Nicola Appleton
Sleep Features Editor

Nicola Appleton is Sleep Features Editor at Tom’s Guide, specialising in quality news content surrounding sleep and wellbeing. Nicola cut her teeth as a journalist in a busy newsroom in Bristol, UK, 15 years ago as part of a team at Britain's largest independent press agency. Since then, her job as a journalist has taken her to the States, to Sydney, and then back to Blighty, where she has written and edited features for a whole host of prominent British and international brands, including  The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Refinery29, Stylist and more. As well as tackling the vast topic of sleep, Nicola will be joining the raft of expert mattress reviewers at Tom's Guide, helping steer readers towards the very best mattresses on the market.