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Daytime Outdoor Light Exposure Linked to Sleep Outcomes

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Daytime Outdoor Light Exposure Linked to Sleep Outcomes

Spending more time outside during the day is linked to better sleep outcomes, according to a new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Sleep is important for good health in just about everyone, but a large body of evidence shows that people with diabetes are especially affected by sleep disorders and poor sleep. In fact, sleeping for a shorter duration is linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Among people with diabetes, sleep disturbances are linked to a higher risk of dying. There is solid evidence that treating sleep disorders effectively could lead to improved outcomes related to type 2 diabetes, so much that sleep quality can actually be considered a powerful factor in diabetes management.

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For the latest study, researchers looked at data from over 400,000 people who took part in a general health study called the UK Biobank. Study participants reported spending a median of 2.5 hours outdoors during daylight. By looking at reported sleep outcomes as well as other health outcomes during the study’s follow-up period, the researchers found that spending more time outside during daylight was linked to better sleep outcomes, as well as other health benefits. Every additional hour spent outside during daylight was linked to a 46% to 49% higher reported ease of getting up after sleeping, 18% to 20% lower reported frequent tiredness, and 3% to 6% lower reported symptoms of insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep).

When it came to other health outcomes, each additional hour spent outside during daylight was linked to a 2% to 8% lower lifetime risk of developing major depressive disorder or using antidepressants, 4% to 7% lower reported frequent inability to feel pleasure, 10% to 13% reduced reported low mood, and 41% to 48% higher reported happiness — independent of a variety of demographic, lifestyle, and job-related factors.

“Our findings suggest that low daytime light exposure is an important environmental risk factor for mood, sleep, and circadian-related outcomes,” the researchers concluded. They noted, though, that reported hours spent outside is only a rough way to measure daytime exposure to natural light — assuming that natural light exposure is, in fact, responsible for most of the beneficial findings. Future studies, they wrote, are needed to measure actual light exposure throughout the day — which can be done using wearable devices. Even smaller studies that actually measure light exposure could help illuminate the relationship between this lifestyle factor and the wide range of health outcomes that are linked to it.

Want to learn more about sleeping well with diabetes? Read “Getting the Sleep You Need,” “Eating for Better Sleep” and “Sleep and Diabetes: What’s the Connection.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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