- Morning Light, Resources to Fall Asleep & Regret of Inaction
Morning Light, Resources to Fall Asleep & Regret of Inaction
🤸♀️ Stretch 43
Bit late with this edition, but I have a good excuse:
I’m in Toronto, Canada 🇨🇦 for a Write of Passage team retreat. We’re a fully remote company and see each other 2-3 times per year.
The purpose of this get-together? Build the #1 writing community on the Internet and prep for our best and biggest upcoming cohort in October!
It’s invigorating to work with people who are so into writing and learning—Will with his “Will learns Chinese” podcast, Matt with a 200 newsletters streak, and Garrett philosophizing in The Intronaut.
Feeling grateful, inspired, and energized. Let’s go!
🤸♀️ IN THIS WEEK'S STRETCH:
Morning Sunlight. The simplest and most impactful habit to improve energy levels and sleep.
3 Resources To Fall Back Asleep. Soundtracks, body scans, and breathing techniques.
The Regret of Inaction. What you can learn from 16.000 regrets.
🌅 MORNING SUNLIGHT FOR ENERGY & SLEEP
If you want to feel more alert during the day and sleep better at night, here’s the #1 thing neuroscientist and podcaster Andrew Huberman keeps hammering on about:
View bright light early in the day—as close to waking up as possible.
Sounds simple enough.
Yet difficult to do consistently.
For me, having a basic physiological understanding of WHY this early sunlight is so important has been helpful to get me out of bed & out the door in the morning.
Let’s see if I can convince you (assuming Huberman hasn’t gotten to you yet):
1) Light is the primary “zeitgeber”
We all have a master circadian clock that manages our 24-hours sleep and wakefulness cycles.
This master clock sits in the darkness of our skull and relies on direct input from our eyes to know when to turn certain functions on and off; when to feel alert and when to feel sleepy.
Natural light coming in through our eyes is considered the primary “zeitgeber” or “timekeeper” for our brain.
By exposing yourself to natural light early in the morning, you’re basically signaling to your circadian clock that it’s time to get the day shift going.
2) A chemical cocktail of cortisol and melatonin
In our retina (the light-sensitive inside lining of the eye), there’s a specialized group of neurons.
When triggered by light, these neurons are responsible for sending electrical signals to the circadian clock: “It’s go time!”
At that moment, the clock sets in motion a timed release of two important hormones:
Your wakefulness signal: an immediate bump in cortisol
Your sleepiness signal: a timed release of melatonin about 12-14 hours later
Here’s what’s really interesting:
The rhythm between cortisol and melatonin is endogenous—which means it’s happening in us all the time without any external input. Even if we’d be in complete darkness in a cave or complete brightness where we never experience any darkness, these rhythms would continue:
Cortisol in the morning; melatonin in the evening.
We can influence the release of these hormones, and thus influence how alert and sleepy we feel, through… you guessed it:
🏃♀️ Wakefulness signal: immediate cortisol release
A lot of people think cortisol (“the stress hormone”) is bad, but it's essential for your immune system and energy—as long as it's not too high or too frequent.
Every day, you get a natural rise in cortisol in the morning—regardless of when you wake up or how much light you see.
However, for optimal energy and alertness, you want to get that pulse as early in the morning as possible.
By viewing bright light early in the morning, you are bringing forward that first pump.
Work from David Spiegel at Stanford Medicine has shown that if you don’t get sunlight early in the day, that cortisol release starts shifting later, which creates issues with insomnia and anxiety and even some low-level depression later in the day.
The wakefulness signal (cortisol) then triggers the onset of the timer for the sleepiness signal (melatonin).
P.S.: a morning walk doesn’t just release cortisol but also dopamine and epinephrine—all the good stuff!
🥱 Sleepiness signal: 12-14 hours timer for melatonin release
You've probably seen the word 'melatonin' in the supplements section, promising to help with sleep problems and jet lag.
But did you know melatonin is not just found in pills and gummies?
It’s a naturally-occurring hormone, mainly produced in your brain. Its main purpose is to prompt your body to feel tired and sleepy.
It’s called the "hormone of darkness" because its production increases in the evening and throughout the night—kicking off about 12-14 hours after that first cortisol release. Plus melatonin is inhibited by light.
So to tie this all together:
By viewing natural light first thing in the morning, you’re…
Bringing forward the cortisol release, making you feel more alert and energized
Pushing down the sleepiness signal through the inhibition of melatonin
Bringing forward the melatonin release in the evening, helping you fall asleep faster
And now, practically…
So: get that morning light!
Depending on your situation (kids, no kids, WFH, commute, etc.), resist the urge to shout, “That won’t work for me!!” and try to come up with creative ideas on how you can get out of outside in the morning.
Check your emails outside
Have your first cup of coffee outside
Set up the breakfast table outside (Remember, it doesn’t need to be sunny. Put on a coat and eat outside.)
Park your car further from your house, so you have to walk to it in the morning
Take a bike and leave the car at home
… (What else? There’s always something you can do.)
And here are a few practical guidelines to keep in mind:
It doesn't matter if it’s cloudy or if you can't see the sun directly. The key is to expose yourself to natural light and the photons that permeate through the clouds. On a clear day, aim for 5-10 minutes, and double that on a cloudy day.
If it’s still dark out when you wake up—turn on bright, overhead lights. Then once it’s light, go outside.
Screen light doesn't count. It's not bright enough to activate the neurons in your eyes that regulate your circadian rhythm. These neurons are most effectively stimulated by natural light.
It’s 50–100 times less effective through a window. Don’t wear sunglasses (and don’t stare directly at the sun, obviously.)
💤 3 RESOURCES TO FALL BACK ASLEEP (YOU CAN USE ANYTIME, ANYWHERE)
I’ve been pretty jetlagged over the last few mornings, going from Bali all the way to Toronto.
I open my eyes, check the time, and feel the urge to “do a bit of reading, just so I can get tired and fall asleep again.”
That’s obviously a lie, and I know it.
So I’ve been trying out a few different methods to get back to sleep. It can often take a while but as long as I can resist the urge to start scrolling through emails or Twitter, I inevitably fall back asleep.
Sounds: 12-Hour Sound Machines
An awesome podcast with 12 hours of interrupted “sound machines” to help you fall asleep. No ads, no interruptions, no talking. All episodes are available for free in their entirety whether you are a premium subscriber or not.
Body Scan: ‘The Military Method’
In the 2012 book Relax and Win: Championship Performance, Lloyd Bud Winter describes a routine created by the Navy Pre-Flight School to help pilots fall asleep.
Six weeks later, 96% of the pilots could fall asleep within 2 minutes or less.
Here's how The Military Method works:
Relax your face. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly and deeply. Then slowly relax all of your facial muscles. Start with your forehead muscles and work your way down. Relax your jaw, your cheeks, your mouth, and your tongue. Take slow, deep breaths.
Drop your shoulders. Let go of any tension. Relax your neck. Feel yourself sinking into the bed. Then start at the top of your right arm, and slowly relax your biceps, forearms, hands, and fingers. Move slowly from body part to body part. Repeat on the other side. Keep breathing slowly and deeply.
Exhale and relax your chest and stomach. With your shoulders and arms relaxed, that should be easy. Without realizing it, we carry a lot of tension in our chest, back, and abdomen. When you exhale, make sure you are entirely relaxing your abdominal muscles.
Relax your legs. Start with your right thigh; let it sink into the bed. Scan down your leg and release the tension in your calf, ankle, and foot. Repeat on your left leg.
Now clear your mind. Now that your entire body is relieved of tension, it's time to do the same with your mind. Imagine yourself lying surrounded by total darkness.
Guided Session: Non-Sleep-Deep-Rest
NSDR is a combination of body scan and exhale-emphasized breathing, bringing the brain and body into a state of deep relaxation.
You go into this conscious sleep-like state, shown to restore energy and dopamine levels.
This is my favorite 23-minute session:
🙁 THE REGRET OF INACTION. WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM 16.000 REGRETS.
I’m fascinated by emotions like envy and regret. You know, these emotions we prefer to rationalize away and don’t really talk about (No Regrets Baby!! 🤘)
But we all experience them. And I think there’s so much value in paying attention to our regrets, so we can use that knowledge to make important decisions.
And here’s the best part:
We can learn just as much, if not more, from other people’s regrets.
I was listening to a podcast interview with Daniel Pink, author of a book called The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.
For the book, he pulled together a database of 16.000 regrets from people from 105 countries.
And he found that every single one of those regrets falls under one of the same four core categories:
Foundation regrets. “If only I’d done the work.” Regrets related to stability and choices—smoking, not exercising, not saving money, not working hard enough in school. Small decisions early on that accumulate to big consequences later in life.
Boldness regrets. “If only I’d taken the chance.” Regrets related to missed opportunities. Asking someone out, taking a new job, studying abroad.
Moral regrets. “If only I’d done the right thing.” Regretting making the “wrong” choices. Bullying, infidelity, lying, refusing help, or turning a blind eye to something.
Connection regrets. “If only I’d reached out.” Regretting broken relationships. Not reaching out sooner, arguments, holding grudges.
In Daniel’s research, these findings were consistent across all genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.
The only demographic difference was found in age.
When people are young (in their twenties), they have about the same number of regrets of action (what they did) and inaction (what they didn’t do.)
But as people get older, inaction regrets take over.
“If only I’d traveled more”
“If only I’d reached out to my brother before he passed away”
“If only I’d started that business”
“If only I had spoken up at work”
“If only if only if only”
The takeaway for all of us is clear:
You are more likely to feel regret for not doing the work / not taking the chance / not reaching out / not doing the right thing… than you are to regret taking action and possibly failing.
And I don’t know about you, but as I’m reading through those four categories, a few things immediately come to mind where I could choose action over inaction. Today.
Take a moment to think about it for yourself. What comes to mind? Where are you not taking action? These can be small things.
Don’t push it away. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t rationalize it.
Let the wisdom of 16.000 people drive you:
Try it out. Say yes. Speak up. Reach out.