Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
What’s all the recent rave about light viewing for productivity?
I’ve been feeling like a plant lately, chasing the sun in the morning, closing my petals to bright light at night — all for the sake of high performance.
Related: 3 Ways Executive Leaders Can Cultivate a High-Performance Team
Just a few months ago the words light hygiene evoked nothing but blank stars from most people when I’d say it. And now, all of a sudden, everyone speaks my language.
Yeah! I get out there every morning to expose myself to natural light and I use blue-light-blocking glasses at night. It changed my overnight sleep!
Quite a common chat with my friends in Mexico.
It’s especially common among my friends — high-performance coaches, digital nomads and tech entrepreneurs.
Light hygiene? Heck yeah! I meditate on my rooftop while sun-gazing with the first rays of the sun every morning!
Light exposure and productivity
What neuroscience tells us is that light viewing — exposing ourselves to natural light outside at different times of the day — especially around sunrise, is one of the most powerful tools we can utilize to boost brain productivity, motivation and focus. Also, to improve sleep quality, memory, our learning abilities, mental health and energy levels. Even our metabolism, blood sugar levels, digestion and bodyweight — all factors of our health — are affected by our light exposure habits.
You are not a plant, but your productivity, as it turns out, depends on the sun! What a fascinating world we are living in!
Related: 10 Tips to Boost Employee Productivity and Skyrocket Performance
My high-productivity neuroscience-backed light viewing routines
I’ve been doing my morning walks for many years now — more so to get the juices flowing than for any other reason. Sometimes it was at sunrise (I’m a morning person), sometimes not. I didn’t time it that specifically since I didn’t have the science, which would explain why light at different times was crucial to my productivity for the rest of the day.
Now that I know how it works, I’m doing it by science!
The sun is up — I’m out there. At least five minutes when it’s sunny, closer to 20 minutes when it’s cloudy, 30-45 minutes when overcast and raining (Neuroscience-supported recommendations). If you aren’t in a place or position to view natural light 30-60 minutes after sunrise, consider investing in something like a lightbox. It doesn’t mimic natural light outside 100 percent but is a much better solution than using nothing.
At night, I do my best to avoid bright light. I turn on night-shift mode on all of my devices. I don’t watch TV at night (I’d use blue-light blockers if I did). I installed the f.lux app on my laptop for when I need to use it at night.
My room lighting after sunset is about 34 LUX (a measure of light intensity, I use a light meter or similar apps to measure it). Anything above 40 LUX, and you run into a dangerous zone of shutting down the production of melatonin that puts you to sleep at night, causing tired and wired falling asleep problems.
There’s something else you need to be aware of if you aren’t a morning person.
You might be wasting your light exposure benefits in what researchers circadian biology call circadian dead zone — when you view light outside the times that are effective for setting our circadian clock properly, after about 9-10 in the morning. Being somewhat by the poles (UK and Russia) vs. equator (Mexico) makes it even more complex.
I shared with you my essential light routine. Use it — it works.
The story doesn’t end here though! It gets very interesting! You need to understand and adjust your nutrition as well to reap the benefits of light exposure.
The connection between nutrition, light exposure and our circadian clock
How does it work exactly?
The physiology of the human body, metabolic processes, our brain chemistry and brain performance are adjusted based on the time of the day to optimize our experience and increase our chances of survival. During the day, evolutionary-wise, that’s when we needed to be the most active, productive, focused, alert, ready to hunt, eat and procreate. We are diurnal animals — designed to function during the day and rest at night. Our modern civilization allows us to function at any time of the day but our genetics haven’t changed much — we are still optimized to be active during the day and rest at night.
We don’t often think about the fact that the brain is in this black box, our head, our skull. The brain has no way of knowing what time of the day it is. A variety of light waves hitting our eyes are transmitted to our brain, telling our brain what time it is. Light is different at different times of the day — the angle of the sun to the horizon, the spectrum of light waves at different times, different light intensities. The brain gets the time via our eyes, and then the brain communicates that time to all the clocks in all the cells in our body to tell everyone what they need to do. To keep us active, alert and focused, ready for action or to prepare us for sleep.
If your mind isn’t experiencing aha moments yet — with this information I’m about to share with you — you’ll definitely get one of those moments now!
You are in for an essential to your circadian biology treat!
Related: Fueling Your Body is Key to Fueling Your Business
Our eyes can’t actually just tell our brain what time it is — the communication between different organs and systems in our body is not that simple and direct. Our eyes need a couple of micronutrients to communicate with the brain!
Vitamin A, zinc, circadian clock and your healthy, happy, high-performing brain
There are molecules of vitamin A in the retina of our eyes, vitamin A that we get from eating liver or making it from beta-carotene in carrots and other plants. When the light hits the eyes, molecules of vitamin A are activated. This activation starts a cascade of electrical signaling that tells our brain what time it is.
And here’s our first issue. Do you eat liver (10 ounces weekly)? Carrots (20-30 ounces weekly), spinach (35-45 ounces weekly) and other orange foods (60-70 ounces weekly) in sufficient amounts? Is your gut healthy enough to make the conversion if you are on a plant-based diet?
And it’s not the end of our nutrition story yet!
Vitamin A needs to be activated by zinc! They are a team! They need each other like a CEO, CFO and customer service — the whole enterprise fails if one doesn’t show up.
Zinc. We eat enough of it daily in two oysters, 10 ounces of lean red meat, five ounces of pumpkin seeds and seven cups of cooked lentils (plant-based zinc is harder to absorb).
And that’s how some of you might be really missing out on all the benefits of consistent and timed light exposure! Do you eat that team of A-zinc to switch the light on and off in your brain? And get the circadian grooves going for ultimate focus, alertness, motivation, productivity, great sleep, metabolic optimization, smooth digestion and reduced sugar cravings? A lot of people don’t!
And this brings me to a thought I’ve been coming back to lately on many occasions. There’s never been a better time, a more essential time for all of us to bring together our expertise to create integrative solutions to global issues. More often than not we all find ourselves in situations when our solution, our expertise, our insight aren’t enough — we need to come together to solve it all. Just like in the body, in our brain — brain chemistry, neuroscience, nutrients from food we eat, gut health and digestion — they all need to come together to deliver the benefit, the end result of optimized health so we could enjoy our life fully . Viewing light isn’t enough. Eating vitamin A and zinc isn’t enough. But put them together and you’ll have one heck of a well-functioning human high performer.