Are You Getting Enough Sunlight for Health & Performance? With Matt Maruca

Very recently I had Matt Maruca on the Scale Without Burn Out podcast for an episode I was really looking forward too. 

Matt is the founder of RaOptics and someone who is constantly banging the drum about the importance of getting more sunlight in our lives and the positive effects that this can bring to our lives.  

It’s about more than just getting a nice tan.

Matt speaks a lot about how sunlight can impact our health, performance and general well-being, even in the lesser-known ways such as its impact on the quality of our sleep or how efficiently our brains work. 

As business owners who are trying to thrive and be the best we can be we so much of what Matt talks about is pertinent, so enjoy, because in this blog we are going to take a closer look at some of the best bits of my talk with Matt Maruca. 

This blog has been edited for continuity and clarification purposes.

I jumped straight in by asking Matt to provide us with an overview of how he began talking about the importance of Sunlight and the development of RAoptics. 

When I started having some health issues a couple of years ago, I was completely flummoxed and didn’t really know what to do, so I took to the Internet, I started reading. 

Having skin problems and worsening gut issues or headaches, allergies, for me, it was becoming unbearable and so I started to just deep dive into the world of diet, and learn about that. 

It opened my eyes to how much our diet could not only just heal skin issues, but it could actually heal a lot more than that. Allergies, headaches, gut issues, food sensitivities, it was just a great entry into the health world. 

I started researching more because like many entrepreneurs I wasn’t satisfied with just hitting a certain achievement and then stopping there. I realized there must be so much more that I don’t know and so as I kept researching. 

I realised, wow, there’s so much more to this that I had never, ever considered and no one really considers, that our environment beyond our diet, exercise, maybe sleep and supplementation actually has as much or potentially more of an impact on our body than the food and the fuel we’re consuming because the environment and specifically our light exposure actually control how well we can utilise that fuel. 

So that just got me super interested in moving this whole ball forward and learning more. 

Matt mentioned that he had studied Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns amongst others who are closely aligned with ancestral health so I asked him to explore that.  

They’re more focussed on ancestral eating, they’re not really focussed on ancestral living. They’re just talking about what you eat and how you exercise, how you move. 

Only more recently have some of them begun to speak about the tremendous benefits of sunlight exposure, the importance of our bodies circadian rhythms, and about the tremendous risks of artificial light exposure which completely dysregulates our circadian rhythm, this essential rhythm that controls so many processes.

It’s so seemingly harmless to most people, so no one would think, oh, I’m looking at my phone before bed, that’s completely suppressing my melatonin, destroying the natural repair of my mitochondria and my overall cells and my organs and tissues, which is going to leave me tired, maybe anxious or depressed, maybe lacking energy, lower cognitive function, lower productivity the next day. 

No one thinks that when they’re looking at their phone at night, but that’s exactly what’s happening. 

As business owners, entrepreneurs and ambitious people, we want to be optimal and don’t want to be tired, anxious and low on energy, but some of what Matt said here goes against how many people traditionally work, so I asked him to expand on his points of productive working and working late at night, and how this applies to entrepreneurs. 

Everyone’s familiar with the Parado Principle, the 80-20 rule and one of these items would be getting good sleep and having higher-level brain function and maybe even higher level of consciousness and awareness. 

So you might get a couple extra hours of work done late at night but if you’re staying up late, you’re looking at an artificially lit screen and that’s disrupting the circadian rhythm, the body’s natural production of melatonin and our national sleep and repair, that’s actually really damaging the ability of the brain and the body to repair itself, to function optimally the following day. 

So you might think you got an extra two or three hours of work done and you very well could have, but at the cost of your optimal brain function and productivity, not just tomorrow, but for your entire life, if you do this on a regular basis. 

Theoretically, if someone is just functioning at 10% better in their brain, people are not just feeling 10% better, they’re feeling twice as good as they did before, from an energy standpoint, a clarity standpoint, cognitive function standpoint. 

So it’s just a matter of evaluating, you get three extra hours of work done or two or five extra hours of work done but on a consistent basis, your brain isn’t functioning as well and the brain is like a supercomputer itself so are you really getting closer to the things you want to achieve like health, energy, vitality, because that’s what everyone’s after anyway, is feeling good, and yet you’re staying up late every night, destroying your brain’s reward circuits in your dopamine production and by destroying our circadian rhythm and sleep you’re actively destroying what you’re trying to achieve on a daily basis. 

I found this example to be quite interesting and it got me thinking about wider health and gut health, but also how we as entrepreneurs, often keep irregular hours, to maintain optimal health, and in the process, could actually be doing more harm than good. Matt spoke about gut health first. 

 If you live in a toxic lifestyle, you’re indoors all day, you’re never getting out in the sun, you’re never getting out into nature then your gut might not heal. 

It’s supposed to turn over every 48 hours or somewhere in that range and that is only going to happen if our body circadian rhythm functions normally. 

If you’re chronically disrupting your circadian rhythm with artificial light exposure at night and not getting exposure to sunlight during the day, the gut cells aren’t going to be able to necessarily turn over with the proper speed and efficiency that they are designed to. 

Sunlight and our light exposure drives our gut health and could potentially be even more impactful than all the food and the supplements that people are trying to take on a regular basis.

Matt expanded on how getting up early to work out, in the dark, then getting the tube/train and staying indoors all day could lead to a toxic environment, are such things then a waste of your time? 

It’s not necessarily all wasted because you’re putting in an effort and if you believe that you’re doing yourself a favour and you’re stoked about that, that’s worth a lot. 

But, yes, if you are waking up that early and not getting any sunlight and driving your body really hard, it is for sure huge stress on the body to not have gotten a little bit of natural light exposure, you know, to signal our brain and our hormones and neurotransmitters to all really kick on for the day and yet to be pounding the body and demanding so much of it at that early hour,  I certainly wouldn’t recommend hard working out well before light. 

Then again, there’s Navy SEALs and professional athletes and warriors who march all night and train and they live really long, too. So it’s not like necessarily a one size fits all approach, just there’s some general data, good data indicating that being in line with a healthy circadian rhythm is really good for the body. 

I asked Matt what tips he has for business owners and ambitious people out there that want to make some changes. 

The key takeaway before we get into the practical tips is that our eye has two functions, one which is the camera, we see things just like we see things with the camera and it creates images in the visual cortex in the brain. 

The original function of the eye based on the data was to be a clock, a timekeeper of cues in the external environment. 

First and foremost, just start going outside, it’s that simple. We have evolved for such a long time in natural sunlight, it does power a whole host of functions in addition to just vitamin D, which more people are becoming familiar with it. So if we can go outdoors more, we can start to thrive more as individuals. 

Secondly, get blue light protection glasses. That’s why I started a company (RAoptics) making these because it’s such an important thing based on the research.

We need to block the light that’s emitted by our devices, which is around 450 nanometres in the blue light range. Anyone who’s selling clear lens blue blockers is selling something that’s not scientifically effective, not going to actually block it in a meaningful way.

So that’s kind of the basic takeaway that everyone can start to get some simple activities. 

It sounds simple, but for many people, it’s not that easy because they are grabbing their lunch and not even getting outside because of the office canteen. What would you say is the minimum effective dose of sunlight exposure? 

I love that question, Dr Alexander Wuensch said two hours minimum of unfiltered sunlight exposure is necessary for optimal health and that doesn’t necessarily mean on your skin as well, although that’s also beneficial if you can get out and get a little tan going on without burning. 

But the key is the eye. The eye doesn’t just receive visual signals, as we’ve described, but we can receive the energy from the sun that our brain uses to catalyse certain reactions, like any reaction in biology when it has more energy to proceed, it happens more quickly. The rate of reaction is increased and sunlight is effectively a completely free source of energy that helps increase the rate of every reaction. 

It does the same in our body and almost every organic molecule. 

So one could argue that every single process in our entire body, every single reaction, every single detoxing pathway, every single hormone production system, every single repair and growth and sexual, you know, organ function is all optimised by sunlight. 

Light is effectively free energy that our body can utilise to actually optimise a whole host of processes, so two hours a day, minimum, exposure on the eye, which could be as simple as just having the door, the window or the door open and working next to it or taking an hour walk.

 

Matt had mentioned circadian rhythm and blue light suppressers so I asked him to elaborate on that and what an ideal setting would be for someone when trying to go to sleep.  

The evidence is that sleep starts in the morning. What I mean is that morning sunlight exposure sets our circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour cycle for the rest of the day. If we’re getting up and we’re not getting out and getting light on our eyes until nine or 10 o’clock as opposed to five or six or seven o’clock, our circadian rhythm is potentially already going to be lagged out a little bit, so it might be a little harder to fall asleep because of not having that exposure to the proper stimulus in the morning.

The more important factor here is that exposure to ultraviolet light. 

There’s evidence that ultraviolet light exposure helps to stimulate the production of key hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and serotonin becomes converted into melatonin, which is our molecule of sleep. So the key metric here is that morning sunlight exposure helps our body to naturally create our melatonin stores.

Then in the evening, you know, turning off screen devices two to three hours before bed, ideally at least two and I would say even if you’re using blue light blocking glasses, still don’t use the screens in the evening because it’s still a lot more stimulating on the brain and straining on the eyes. If you have to do colour sensitive work where you can’t block the blue light, just do not do it during the evening, do it during the day, because otherwise, you are intentionally disrupting your circadian rhythm. 

Same with nightshift workers. That is a huge Trade-Off for health. 

People ask, how can I be a nightshifts worker and still be optimally healthy?

It’s like, well, you should quit your job if you want to be as healthy as possible. 

But if you want to do the best you possibly can while chronically being exposed to a toxin which artificial light at night for a diurnal animal is effectively a toxin, then there’s not too much you can do about it besides leave, then when you’re not working there, mitigate as hard as possible by sleeping better and having better sleeping habits, by getting sunlight exposure in reasonable doses throughout the day to build up your vitamin D and your natural immune function, mitochondrial energy production and so on. 

It was that was one of the questions that came through about limiting factors due to shift patterns and what you’d recommend for that, but actually, what I’m hearing is quit the job. 

Identify it for what it is, which is toxic, and then decide whether you’re willing to make that Trade-Off. If you love being a nightshift nurse as much as your own health and longevity, then definitely do it. 

I don’t want to make these blanket statements because I imagine there have been people who work night shifts, although the data doesn’t support this, but people who work night shifts, who have lived long and healthy lives, but in general, the data is very clear, nightshift workers have sometimes more than double the risk of almost every chronic disease from heart disease to cancer to you know, the data is actually kind of scary, that’s why I just recommend, become familiar with the risk and then make decisions from that place of genuine knowledge and understanding and not fear, but just understanding. 

I’d like to just build on the sleep thing. What’s your what’s your advice on that?

I go back and forth on that one because I always want the light to wake me up in the morning. Dr Jacques Cruz, he specifically says, of all the hacks that you can do, the most powerful is getting up every morning and watching the sunrise. That’s because that actual view into the sun when it’s hasn’t quite gotten very strong yet sets the circadian rhythm almost more powerfully than anything else, especially because there’s an increase in the blue light component of the sun so much at that early hour that it is like a boom. 

Get the darkness at night and the light coming in, in the morning, which is really what our bodies are looking for. 

What are your views on sunscreen? 

So sunscreen, I think is a flawed concept and sounds a bit strange, but let me explain. 

The whole premise behind sunscreen is that the sun is toxic and needs to be screened or blocked. 

After learning more, it became undeniably clear to me that sunlight is the driving force of all life on Earth and of all biological evolution and of all biological complexity, so the premise that the sun is somehow bad for us is entirely flawed at its core. 

That’s the best way to put it. 

It was the 30s, 40s and 50s, researchers were trying to understand why people were starting to get skin cancer and so the researchers would take ultraviolet lights and irradiate rats, which are a nocturnal animal, not even really designed to be exposed to a ton of sunlight, with ridiculous amounts of ultraviolet light, isolated from a manmade bulb, not the same as sunlight, not composed of the same spectrum, including the healing red and Infra-Red light, which can balance and potentially offset some of the more damaging, higher risks of the high energy ultraviolet light. 

From this, they did find that excessive amount of ultraviolet light caused these cancers, and so that became the theory. 

These premises all come from flawed, poorly conducted experiments where they weren’t using natural full spectrum sunlight as a control, they were using artificial manmade lighting that was very different from the composition of the sun. 

Now we can further evaluate the real-life data and not just some studies we can see that since people have started exposing ourselves to less sunlight, living a more indoor lifestyle wearing sunglasses and so on, skin cancer rates and rates of cataracts and macular degeneration, all things attributed to sun exposure have all increased. 

So, it begs the question, is it the sun that’s causing these issues because the recent data from the U.S. government shows that the average American spends 92% of their time indoors, it’s about 6% in the car and 86% in an actual building behind windows. 

So if the sun caused skin cancer, shouldn’t the rates be lower than ever since we moved to an indoor lifestyle? Whereas they’re higher than they’ve ever been. 

Could it be that people are getting their two weeks vacation and then they just take advantage so that they’re out in the sun and then the body’s not used to it? 

That’s exactly what it is, but when we say the sun causes skin cancer, it’s like, well, the sun also caused the evolution of the eye and the skin so we’re getting into messy territory. 

The answer your question is yes, people who are weekend warriors, who go out and just get fried and then go back to their desk job all day, their body isn’t producing melanin to protect from excess damage. 

I’m not advocating by any means to go out in the strong sun. 

I’m in San Diego right now, I’m not in the sun for more than probably a couple hours tops a day and I’m more focussed on the early morning in the late afternoon because that’s when there’s more of the healing red and Infra-Red light and less of slightly more damaging ultraviolet. 

To answer your question about sunscreen a little more concisely, we have the best national sunscreen ever in our body, it’s called melanin. Our brain stimulates it just like pretty much everything else but our body makes it in response to ultraviolet light, so if you build up your exposure, slowly, like if you’re a Brit and you go to Spain in the winter or the summer or whenever for a week vacation, take those first two or three days, get 5, 10, 15 minutes on each side of your body, maybe spaced out throughout the day because your body can heal. 

The other key is not wearing sunglasses because the transmission of ultraviolet light through the eye stimulates melanocytes stimulating hormone, which is this hormone that stimulates the production of the melanocytes, which make melanin, so if you’re wearing sunglasses, you’re asking for skin cancer because you’re going to destroy your body’s ability to make its own protection systems for protection against the sun. 

I highly recommend against ever wearing any form of sunscreen except non-nano zinc oxide since I’m a surfer, I’ll use non-nano, but the best is also physical protection, like a hat.

We briefly touched on a few things that people can do to help them to assimilate light better, which prompted Matt to outline what he refers to as the ‘light diet’, here is a brief overview. 

  1. Sleep with the sun. Set up your evening properly, block blue light, avoid screens just one or two hours at least before bed. 
  1. Wake with the sun, expose yourself to natural sunlight in the morning. 
  1. Expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day. Work on your deck, drink your coffee outside in the morning, sunbathe for 15 or 20 minutes if you possibly can.
  1. Drink un-fluoridated clean water like spring water so you’re not getting all those chemicals in your body.
  1. Consume a seasonal diet primarily based on seafood. 
  1. Take advantage of cold exposure, so taking ice baths like Wim Hof style. 
  1. Avoid non-native electromagnetic fields and mitigate the risk of that, so Wi-Fi, Bluetooth,  there’s a lot to that. The simplest thing to do is turn off your Wi-Fi while you sleep, use your phone on speakerphone, keep it on aeroplane mode when it’s in your pocket. 
  1. Cultivate our inner light. If you’re worrying all the time and you’re freaking out and you don’t have something in your life that you love, that motivates you, then all that external light you’re taking in through these methods we’ve described isn’t going to help if you’re chronically stressed. 

This could be the first time people have heard this stuff and could be very concerned about it, so how do you how do we find that balance and cope with these fears and concerns? 

There are different philosophies on this and I’m not an expert on how to psychologically manage the knowledge. 

There’s a purpose of these emotions, they can stimulate us to do better things, so I would say let this be a short intermittent bit of stress. 

You’ve now learnt that there’s a lot of things that we’re doing in the modern world today that are very antagonistic to our wellbeing and our proper biological functioning. 

Make the changes you can based on the new knowledge, let that knowledge be a stimulus to make decisions. 

As the interview drew to a close I asked one final question. 

Matt. If people want to find out more about you and connect with you, which we send them. 

My Instagram is @thelightdiet, that’s my personal Instagram. 

The other place would be RAoptics.com, my business and their Instagram is @ra_optics. 

Final thoughts

There was so much thought-provoking information in this episode, some of which may challenge our traditional thinking and go against some of our natural urges as business owners and entrepreneurs, certainly the idea of working out early or finishing work before bed and how this could impact our bodies. 

To get the full breakdown of what Matt had to say and to listen back to our conversation in real-time, I highly recommend you listen to the podcast episode (INSERT LINK TO PODCAST HERE) where you can also listen to a few other areas that didn’t make it into the blog. 

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