I’m not a morning person. In fact, I love nothing more than staying all cozy in my bed in the mornings, especially when it’s cold outside. In fact, up until a few years ago I described myself as a night owl, often rolling my eyes at those people who hit the gym at 5:00 am in the morning. ‘What are they thinking?!’ I wondered. On many occasions some morning person tried to sell me on the idea that I should get up before the sun, but I would simply argue that it wasn’t natural to get up in the dark. All of that was before I learned that getting up to watch the sunrise every day can actually change your mood.
Getting up to Watch the Sunrise Allows Us to Stay in Sync with Nature
It was the dead of winter in Indiana, and I was attending a course on Ayeruvedic medicine. The instructor was explaining a concept based on the idea that it’s best to wake up before the sunrise, when there is natural movement in the atmosphere. This allows the body to stay in sync with nature. According to this concept, the last phase of our 24-hour body clock is from 2 to 6 a.m and it’s the period when we dream a lot. The instructor informed us that it’s best to get up at the end of this phase. Since I already knew that getting up to watch the sunrise could stave off depression, I began to wonder if those crazy morning people were actually on to something.
I decided to give the early morning thing a try. I knew it would be difficult to override decades of allowing myself to sleep in, so I set a goal to watch the sunrise every morning for two months. After that, I would reassess and see how I felt. I made myself a schedule and set the alarm in my phone for 5:30 am through the end of March. The first morning was incredibly unpleasant. My alarm went off at 5:30 am and I cursed out loud. I looked outside at the darkness and saw snow falling. I reluctantly forced myself to crawl out from under the covers and jumped into a warm shower. My dog opted to stay snuggled up in the blankets as she looked at me with disbelief.
I Was Waking up Every Day Wondering if I Would See a Bright Splash of Pink or Orange
I bundled up and took my dog for a long walk. When we returned I indulged in several cups of tea to warm my body and let the caffeine do it’s thing. I did not feel less depressed. I felt tired. Really tired. ‘It’s going to be a long two months,’ I thought. Every morning the alarm went off and every morning I forced myself to crawl out of bed and venture out into the cold. And almost every morning I looked up at a soft depressingly grey sky. I started to become irritated and couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t any change in my mood at all. But there were those few days when the sunrise was breathtaking. And I started to wake up with anticipation each morning, wondering if I would see soft grey or a bright splash of pink or orange.
I made it to the end of the two months and still felt really tired. After allowing myself one lazy Sunday to sleep in and miss the sunrise, I noticed I spent the entire day wondering what I had missed. Was it a grey morning? Or did I miss one of those breathtaking moments when the sky was bright with color? That evening I eagerly set my alarm for 5:30 am to make sure that I didn’t miss anymore opportunities for a moment of awe. As the months progressed, I noticed that I had a bit more energy and I actually couldn’t wait to get up and see what the sky was going to offer me that day. That was three years ago. It’s very rare for me to miss a sunrise now. And when I do, I always wonder what I missed.
Our Brains are Wired to Expect a Similar Pattern of Light and Darkness
As it turns out, science backs up the idea of getting up early to watch the sunrise. The theory is that our brains are actually wired to expect a similar daily pattern of light and darkness, because we originated from regions near the equator where dawn and dusk came gradually at much the same time all year around. This makes it difficult for us to adjust to places where the days are longer in summer and shorter in winter. A lack of sunlight can lead to SAD, seasonal affective disorder, which includes symptoms of excessive sleep, food cravings, and pervasive anxiety. Over time, symptoms of SAD can develop into major depression as a person continues to get too little light or not enough light at the right time of the day.
And since we also know that moments of awe can help improve mental health and alleviate depression, getting up to greet the sunrise just makes sense. I can’t honestly think of anything more awe inspiring than a spectacular sunrise. It doesn’t matter where you are geographically either. Whether it be a sunrise over the mountains, ocean, or forest, everyone has the opportunity to catch something breathtaking. And winter sometimes offers the most spectacular colors.
Every Morning I Get up in the Darkness with Excitement
And the best part about sunrises are that they are never the same. Every morning I get up in the darkness with excitement to see what the sky has to offer me that day. Sometimes it’s a simple yellow glow as the sun peaks up over the horizon. Other days, like today, there’s a small splash of orange or pink on the edges of the clouds. And then there are those days that you step outside and gasp with awe at the bright splash of color before you. And those are the days that make it all worthwhile. One amazing sunrise can last me a week as I go about my days mesmerized by how nature made the clouds look that morning. And the anticipation of catching another brilliant sunrise keeps me going.