Hi everyone, writing from sunny Greece here.
I’m here on a holiday, and I just had to write about my experience here.
I’m not going to talk about the great weather, the wonderful view, the sandy beaches and the blue waters of the Mediterreanean.
Those are great topics to write about on their own, but in the spirit of this blog, I’m going to write about the effect this trip has had on my sleep.
You see, the week before I came here, I was under a lot of stress, and my sleep wasn’t what it was supposed to be. I’ve got both stuff about my job on my mind, and a whole lot of troubles about my master’s thesis I can’t seem to finish on time.
And then I still need to find the time to write here.
This overload can happen to everyone of course, and it’s only a sign of the toll a standard Western lifestyle can take on one’s health.
But after a few days away, the incredibly powerful effect being out away from all the stress and spending all day outside has had on my biology is unbelievable. It didn’t even take that long, just a few days in a totally different environment and I can’t keep my eyes open no matter what I try.
Now, in all truth, coming here was also partly a way of doing an experiment. My philosophy on sleep is that we need to mimic being in nature as much as possible, being outside in the sun, and not being distracted as much.
And in all truth, it isn’t so much about not having anything on your mind, because I really still have a lot on my mind. You can’t just go from being in mental overdrive for over a couple of months to just being super relaxed in a few days. Winding down takes longer.
Nonetheless, I wake up at 5-6 o’clock here every day now, and I become incredibly sleepy by 7-8 PM!
So, it’s actually gotten so bad that I start drinking a ton of coffee every evening to keep me awake, since I’d like to enjoy my evenings here as well. But the thing is, it doesn’t work!
Drinking two large cups of coffee only gives me an extra jolt for about an hour, and then I become really sleepy again. And I used to think a bit of coffee would wreck my sleep.
Right now, I don’t think coffee has that big of an effect if other lifestyle habits are in sync. In truth, I only think two big mechanisms are to ‘blame’ for my inability to stay awake.
Two mechanisms that actually only one thing is responsible for: the Sun.
You see, while I’m here, I spend most of my days outside in the Sun, from morning to evening. I just relax by the pool, and I read some books.
Sometimes I swim a bit, but that’s not really a lot of exercise, compared to all the time I spend just lying down. At times I feel actually kind of guilty here for being so lazy here. But nonetheless, all of it serves a purpose.
So what is happening?
Well first of all, my eyes are exposed to very strong sunlight all day long. Instead of my usual habit of working inside all day, and being shielded from the sun, I’m spending all day outside.
The blue spectrum light that the sun emits, in turn, is the primary signaler that your brain uses to tell the time of day. This is what is called a zeitgeber, or ‘time giver’.
Now, I knew that morning sunlight is especially important, and even on normal weekdays, when I go to work, I try to expose my eyes to daylight as much as possible in the morning.
I knew this was important by itself, but I couldn’t believe the incredible difference it made now that I’m able to get sunlight all day long. It’s incredible, the difference this makes. Literally day and night.
Secondly, I believe a second mechanism to be equally important, and this one also has to do with sunlight, but a different spectrum of light. Next to blue light, the sun also emits very strong and very large amounts of red light.
I’ve read a lot about red light and the body’s response to it.
Supposedly, your cells are able to take in red light and use it to produce energy. This also causes a phenomenon called ‘cortisol bracketing’.
What this basically means is, that full body exposure to sunlight drastically reduces the amount of cortisol in the body, which in turn basically reduces stress.
I believe stress hormones are powerful stuff that keep you awake no matter how much melatonin, magnesium or valerian you’re taking in. To counter them, getting sunlight exposure is a very powerful strategy in reducing stress levels.
I do think the fact that I’m able to sleep so well to be really curious, because I haven’t been able to do other things I usually do to to improve sleep. I haven’t been able to stand up all day, or eat enough carbohydrates. I’m just lying here doing nothing all day, reading Harry Potter books, and I can only eat when they serve food here (really hungry at the moment actually).
And in all honesty, my bed here sucks too. So even with all that, I’m actually having the best sleep in ages.
I wake up feeling great too, totally energized and ready to head off straight to breakfast.
I mean, I’ve tried staying awake, but I’ve given up on it. 9 PM is the latest I’ve been able to go. And coffee doesn’t do a damn thing.
Seeing as how it’s summer, there’s two things you can do.
Either spend all day outside in the sun, from dawn till dusk, with minimal clothing. If you’re working during the day, just try to get an hour’s worth of full body sun exposure after work. Also be sure to expose your eyes to bright daylight in the morning.
If you live in a shitty climate, where you’ve got no sunlight at all (like in my case), book a holiday to someplace where the weather’s really good. A place where you’re sure to have sun all day.
Believe me, it’ll be worth it.