November this year, our clocks went back an hour, which accelerated the arrival or darker evenings and seemingly “shorter days”. It doesn’t actually make the days any shorter, in merely just shifted an hour of available daylight from the evening to the morning. Most people take lighter evenings as a priority over lighter mornings, arguments are always made over the benefits for easier travel in lighter evenings from clock changes. However, research suggests that holding onto lighter mornings could give more advantages. Having light in the morning, instead of any other time of the day, leads significant brain-boosting results. In fact, it helps us to function much better.
Credit: Attribution license: Porsche Brosseau
All living animals and plants on Earth revolve their lives around the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. For humans, we desire to sleep during the dark night, and our bodies are honed to environmental light via a biological chain reaction.
We, humans, detect light intensity by special cells in the retina, then the information is relayed to the internal body clock in the brain, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It is in the hypothalamus (which uses the endocrine system to regulate internal body processes), which is linked to hormone secretion, through the pituitary gland. These light messages’ job is to internalize information about light intensity in the surrounding environment.
The chain reaction continues with the brain driving the secretion of the hormone cortisol for a specific time of the day, it is in low levels in the dark and high levels in the light. Cortisol is a very important hormone that has very dramatic effects on the human brain and body. The cortisol is also known as the “Stress hormone” that keeps us healthy through its 24-hour pattern.
The cortisol awakening response(CAR) occurs the first 30 minutes of waking up, it is a strong burst in cortisol secretion. The lighter the mornings, the bigger the CAR. Which directly results in a better functioning brain throughout the day. In an experiment, people who have greater seasonal depression, stress, anxiety and lower arousal exhibited the lowest winter CARs. But when they are exposed to artificial light during their awakenings, their CAR was restored. Thus proving that morning light is the most effective treatment for the winter blues.
Other research has also shown that CAR in the morning is directly linked to better brain plasticity, better goal-setting, decision-making and executive function.
The burst of cortisol secretion in the morning sweeps throughout the entire body where it is recognized by receptors on all body cells. The receptors then generate the biological chain reaction to allow us to function better for the day ahead. A lack of light in the morning can make us feel not functioning fully, and an exposure to light in the morning is extremely beneficial.