Routine is crucial to all aspects of health – after all, our body needs the old “rinse, repeat” to replenish energy, maintain cognitive health, and boost overall well-being. But what if the routine you have established – and your sleep-wake daily cycles – no longer work for you?
Changing your Circadian Rhythm to become an “early riser” instead of a “night owl”, or to modify your natural meal times is all but easy – but certainly possible!
Here’s what you need to know to get your Circadian Rhythm working for you.
What Is Your Circadian Rhythm?
Deriving from the Latin “Circa Diem” (“about a day” in English), the Circadian Rhythm sets the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness, which, in turn, affects hormonal activity and other bodily processes like the hunger-digestion pattern.
This Rhythm is regulated by the Circadian Clock, or a cluster of over 20,000 neurons called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is located at the base of the brain. The SCN is sensitive to light, and, as it receives signals from the surrounding environment, this nucleus adjusts hormones, temperature, and metabolism.
That is why you feel alert in the morning and sleepy at night!
Do You Need to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm?
The Circadian Rhythm automatically resets every 24 hours – but this rhythm does not look exactly the same in all people! For example, while most people feel at their most tired between 2-4 am and 1-3 pm, the times at which you’ll feel the most productive and alert often vary.
These variations are normal and to be expected – but not to be confused with a Circadian Rhythm misalignment! Indeed, some factors can disrupt the signaling deriving from the body’s Circadian Clock, thus affecting your overall health.
The factors to be mindful of when looking to reset your circadian rhythm include:
- Erratic sleep-wakefulness patterns
- Uneven work shift patterns (i.e.: overnight and off-hours shifts)
- Jet lag
- Stress, anxiety, and some mental health disorders
- Light from electronic devices
- Sleep disorder
Resetting Your Circadian Rhythm to Get it Working For You: 3 Strategies
Whether you are looking to realign your disrupted Circadian Rhythm or you wish to modify your existing one to build a routine that better suits your lifestyle, changing your sleep-wakefulness cycle isn’t easy. Here are three strategies to test out today.
Implement a Solid Bedtime and Morning Routine
If your goal is to improve your sleeping habits, go from being a night owl to an early riser, or feel more energized during the day, the first aspect to address is your bedtime and morning routine.
To reset your sleep-wake cycle, consider:
- Waking up at the same time every day – even if, at first, you might not get sleepy early enough to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Set an alarm and start training your body!
- Keep your sleeping schedule consistent, even on weekends
- Use melatonin supplements to facilitate your transition to sleep and synchronize your sleep-wake cycle
- Avoid using screens like phones, laptops, and tablets before bed. Opt for reading a book instead!
Improve Your Sleeping Environment
Your sleeping environment can impact your sleep quality and, thus, your ability to feel sleepy at night and rested in the morning. Consider adjusting factors in your sleeping environment, including temperature, noise levels, and light exposure.
Don’t forget that exposure to light can compromise the normal production and release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, thus affecting your normal sleep-wake cycle.
Build a Healthier Lifestyle
Living a healthy life is essential to safeguard your sleep quality and Circadian Rhythm synchronization.
Some lifestyle tips to consider include:
- Seek immediate exposure to sunlight after you wake up to signal your body to produce less melatonin and reset your body clock for the day
- Avoid keeping your body active at night by eating and drinking early in the evening
- Exercise is vital to sleep quality. Avoid stimulating your body with exercise before bedtime, but make sure to keep your body active for at least 30 minutes every day
- Avoid caffeine for at least 5 hours before bed
Partner With a Specialist To Tackle Underlying Issues
Some underlying conditions and medications can take a toll on your sleep quality and ability to control your Circadian Rhythm. Consider partnering with a specialist to make sure that there are no underlying health issues affecting your sleep-wake cycle.
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