The Power Of The Sunrise
October 27, 2020
October 27, 2020
There is something special and uniquely energizing about the rising sun as it welcomes the coming of a new day.
On a clear morning, the first glimmer of light can flood the world with rich hues of red, orange, and blue, offering a raw and unparalleled beauty—a true gift from nature.
Even when the sunrise doesn't fill the sky with spectacular color, it remains abundant in symbolism and power.
Sunrises represent hope, consistency, freedom, and a new day full of untapped opportunity. They occupy a special place in the human experience and we are drawn to the rising sun through a deeply primal connection.
However, as we become increasingly disconnected from nature, our appreciation for the sunrise seems to pass us by. Late nights filled with technology and artificial light have made late mornings the norm and the sunrise more of a novelty than a habit—if not actively avoided altogether. Today, watching the sunrise is reserved for those rare occasions when a specific geographic location yields an exceptionally photographable moment.
If you’ve ever dragged yourself out of bed to watch the sunrise or made it part of your regular routine, then you know how powerful it can be. And while its stunning beauty and symbolism certainly play a role, the reasons may go far deeper.
As it turns out, it’s part of who we are and it may be one of the most important decisions you make each day for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Let's explore why!
Looking Back To Look Forward: Ancient Rhythms of Life
First, let’s consider for a moment why sunrises, and sunlight in general, are so important.
Human evolution occurred in complete alignment with nature and we rely on cues from the environment, most prominently the sun, to tell biological time—today, we call this our circadian rhythm.
This ancient adaptation was an important advantage in our evolutionary development as it allowed for consistency, adaptation, and efficient energy production—the most important aspects of survival. Ultimately, our use of light to create order in this way is what allowed for our complexity to flourish.
Fast forward to today.
While our intimate dependence on light to create biologic order has not changed, the world around has—and drastically so.
With the advent of the power grid (electricity), the rapid development of artificial light, and the pressure for constant productivity, we very quickly traded pleasure and convenience for chronic desynchronization from our environment.
And with chronic desynchronization has come a rapid de-evolution as evidenced by the prevalence of diseases like:
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way and the realignment required to achieve optimal is possible—and it all starts with the sunrise.
Set Your Circadian Rhythm
First light signals the dawn of a new day—time to awake and be active.
How does our body know this?
For most of human history, it wasn’t an alarm clock. It was the changing light environment and our body’s innate response.
As the sun’s position shifts throughout the day, its intensity and the presence of certain visible and non-visible frequencies do as well.
At sunrise and into the morning, the sun is composed predominantly of short wavelength, high energy blue light.
Our circadian systems are particularly sensitive to blue light, which interacts with melanopsin, a photoreceptor found in the eye and skin. The messages received are relayed back to the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), often referred to as the “master clock,” to initiate a cascade of action throughout the body, with two of the most important functions being:
1. Cortisol Secretion:
Cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone, is produced by the adrenal gland and tightly regulated by the circadian mechanism.
Ideally, levels should follow a predictable rhythm, with the greatest concentration present right after waking up. Throughout the day, cortisol levels should slowly decrease and be at their lowest into the evening when it is time to rest. Levels will then begin to rise throughout the night until we wake, once again reaching their peak (1). This natural rhythm serves a very specific purpose, helping us feel alert and energized in the morning to take on the stresses of an active day. Many functions throughout the body respond to changes in cortisol, including metabolism and energy production, for this very purpose.
Without a daily reset from the rising sun, cortisol levels can quickly become misaligned and disrupt function throughout the body. Not to mention the stresses of the modern world coupled with artificial light, which leave most with chronically elevated cortisol levels, further complicating our natural rhythm.
For optimal cortisol, prioritize the sunrise each morning, look to decrease stress wherever and whenever possible and eliminate/reduce artificial light exposure.
2. Melatonin Suppression:
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and acts as the body’s ultimate repair mechanism. Like cortisol, melatonin levels are tightly regulated by our circadian rhythm—however, they work opposite of one another. When one is high, the other should be lower.
In the morning, when cortisol is high, melatonin levels should be low—this helps us rise and feel alert. Melatonin should stay low throughout the day, gradually rising as the sun begins to set. Peak melatonin levels should occur in the middle of the night and gradually fall again before it is time to wake up (2).
What does the sunrise have to do with melatonin and sleep?
When blue wavelengths are present in our environment, melatonin secretion is subsequently suppressed. By missing the morning sun, we miss this critical message—the result is drowsiness, lack of energy throughout the day, and disrupted sleep later on.
To synchronize our melatonin cycle with the light environment for optimal energy levels and high-quality sleep, a daily reset of the circadian mechanism is critical. Watching the sunrise each day is a requirement for staying in perfect alignment and guaranteeing optimal circadian function day in and day out.
A Time For Healing
Solar radiation reaching the earth contains varying levels of visible and non-visible light frequencies.
Roughly 40% of this solar radiation is composed of infrared (IR) and red light.
Infrared light, which is non-visible and perceived as heat, is found roughly after 760nm on the electromagnetic spectrum and divided into three different bands—IR-A (760–1400 nm), IR-B (1400–3000 nm), and IR-C (3000 nm–1 mm). Visible red light, on the other hand, occurs between 625–760 nm (3).
IR and red light are abundant in the sunrise and critical for optimal health. Due to its longer wavelength and ability to penetrate deep into our tissue, IR/Red light works at the mitochondrial level to optimize critical functions.
Benefits of exposure to Red/IR light radiation include:
Starting your day with a healthy dose of red/IR light is a great way to simultaneously heal and optimize energy levels. While there are red/infrared light devices available, nothing beats the real thing, and prioritizing the sunrise is a critical part of fueling your full day.
Time To Step Back, Slow Down, And Destress
Modern life has become increasingly chaotic, with little relief or time to step back. The result is chronic stress, which has become an unfortunate cultural norm with dire consequences.
Making the sunrise a daily habit is incredibly healing for our mental health and stress levels, not only for the reasons mentioned above but also on a deeper level.
The sunrise is an opportunity to slow down and admire nature’s symbolism and beauty. It represents hope, the start of a new day, and a reminder of the opportunities that lie ahead.
It's a time of quiet.
Take advantage of the unique solace present only at sunrise. Use it as a reset and a chance to ready yourself for the challenges that may lie ahead.
This could mean simply sitting in peace or actively engaging in meditation, journaling, or gratitude practice. Whatever it is, make sure it brings you a sense of peace.
Making The Sunrise A Lifestyle
If your immediate reaction is, “I could never get up to see the sunrise,” you’re certainly not alone. For most, getting up early is a welcomed rarity and the preference is towards sleeping later.
But, it also may be a sign that you’re in a state of circadian desynchronization, which as we have learned, is a risk factor for later concerns.
So, what’s the solution?
Takeaway: Every sunrise is an invitation for optimal health.
Here’s are some questions to consider:
How many sunrises have you seen in your life?
Think about the first light you see every day—is it the sun? Or is it the glow of a phone, computer, or television screen?
How you answer these questions—day in and day out—could be the key to your optimal health ecosystem.
At our core, humans are tightly coupled to nature’s quantum mechanisms to create optimal health at the cellular level.
This is achieved through complete circadian alignment with our light environment. And while the entire day is important, the sunrise is of particular significance because of its unique complexity, energetic/healing capabilities, and our innate physiological response.
The unfortunate reality is that many have seen no more than a handful of sunrises in their life and are missing the critical messaging associated. The result is a state of chronic desynchronization and the subsequent dysfunctions that have become all too common today.
However, it is possible to reset and regain optimal health. And eventually, with effective and consistent management of your light environment, it will become a welcomed part of your daily routine.
See you in the field.