Posted by Nicole on October 9
What makes you feel sleepy at night and alert during the day? Your body’s daily and nightly cycles are regulated by an internal clock called the “circadian clock.” Those cycles are known as your “circadian rhythms.”
There are a lot of things that can change or disrupt circadian rhythms. Some of these are biological and unavoidable, like getting older.
Others may be tied to your lifestyle, but still difficult to avoid, like working nights or varying shifts.
But other factors may be within your ability to control. Following are some recommendations for how you can adjust your lifestyle and habits to promote healthy, regular circadian rhythms so that you rest well at night and function at your best during the day.
1. Sleep according to a regular, predictable schedule.
If at all possible, try not to vary the times when you wake up and go to bed. If you are always shifting your schedule around, your body will be constantly guessing whether it is time to wake up or go to sleep. Your circadian rhythms will not be regular and reliable.
2. Expose yourself to plenty of sunlight during the day.
One of the main cues for your circadian rhythms is sunlight. When you expose yourself to sunlight, it tells your body that it is daytime and to be awake and alert.
In the morning, go outside to soak in some of those rays. It will help you wake up. Spend time outside if you can, or at least near an open window throughout the day.
3. Can’t get out in the sun during the day? Use artificial lighting.
Alas, for some professionals, it is impossible to get outside or even stand near a window for an entire work shift.
What can you do if this describes you? SleepFoundation.org recommends, “Exposure to bright artificial lights can reorient circadian rhythms quite effectively. Timed exposure works particularly well for shift workers, or those whose job schedules include late night and/or early morning hours. Different light therapy devices are available, including lightboxes, desk lamps, and sunrise simulators.”
4. Avoid blue light exposure at night.
Just as artificial light exposure can help you to stay alert during the day and maintain your circadian rhythms, exposure at night can also keep you awake and throw off those rhythms.
Blue light especially is a culprit at night. What sources expose you to blue light? Your devices. WebMD writes, “Any amount of light signals your brain that it’s time to be up and alert. Even the blue light from your tablet, smartphone, or TV has this effect. To get a good night’s sleep, unplug from all screens 2 to 3 hours before bed. Other artificial light can have the same effect, so turn off hallway lights and face your alarm clock away from you. If you’re bothered by light outside your home, put up blackout curtains or use a sleep mask.”
5. Modify your eating schedule.
Circadian rhythms not only regulate sleep, but also hunger. Indeed, how you time your meals may also impact your rhythms in return.
SleepFoundation.org explains, “Circadian rhythms regulate when we feel hungry and how we digest food. Some studies have found that advancing or delaying meals can alter how your circadian rhythm regulates these processes, causing you to feel alert and tired at different times than those you’ve become accustomed to.”
6. Get regular exercise.
Do you have a sedentary lifestyle? Consider getting more exercise on a regular basis. Doing so might make it easier for you to sleep at night.
Should you work out right before bed? Some people suggest that this works for them, while others report that it keeps them up longer. So, your mileage may vary.
7. Go camping.
Live in a rural area? If it is convenient for you to go camping now and again, you might want to think about it. Believe it or not, this may help you to reset your circadian rhythms. Indeed, it may be particularly helpful around the change in seasons.
As explained in this research, “These findings provide evidence that the human circadian clock adapts to seasonal changes in the natural light-dark cycle and is timed later in the modern environment in both winter and summer. Further, we demonstrate that earlier circadian timing can be rapidly achieved through natural light exposure during a weekend spent camping.”
8. Improve sleep hygiene.
You will have a hard time maintaining healthy circadian rhythms if your entire sleep environment is off.
We’ve talked about how your room should be dark. You should also have a mattress that is comfortable, yet firm, and a pillow that supports your spine. The noise level in your room should be controlled if possible; white noise can assist if you need to screen out background sounds.
There are some things you should avoid before bed. This, too, is part of having good sleep hygiene.
Try not to drink alcohol or caffeine late at night, or eat foods that might be hard to digest.
9. Use a relaxing routine before bed.
What is the right mindset for sleep? Certainly not anxiously thinking about the events of your day or the next day.
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can help you to enter a different mindset. Instead of attaching to the events of your day, you need to disconnect from them.
The "routine" aspect also helps, because it creates a behavioral cue for your body, which comes to recognize that when you initiate that routine, bedtime is approaching.
Your routine can be anything that helps you de-stress and wind down.
10. Take a supplement for sleep.
Finally, you may find taking a nightly supplement helpful for getting regular, restful sleep each night. Ingredients that can help you to get the sleep you need include melatonin, Phosphatidylserine, Ashwagandha, L-Theanine and 5-HTP.
Consistency is Key With Adjusting and Maintaining Circadian Rhythms
All of the recommendations above can be helpful in resetting your circadian rhythms.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the more consistent you are with your habits, the more consistent your daily and nightly circadian cycles will be as well.