“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway
Ever experience difficulty falling asleep or find yourself awake at odd hours of the night?
Regularly feel groggy in the morning time and can’t figure out why?
Perhaps it’s time to reset your circadian rhythm.
What Is The Circadian Rhythm?
“There is no hope for a civilization which starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock.” – Anonymous
Our circadian rhythm is the body’s natural clock and works on a 24-hour cycle that tells us when we should be awake and when we should be asleep.
Every living organism from flowers to other mammals have their own circadian rhythm.
This is what prompts flowers to open in the morning and close in the evening.
Think of it as your own internal alarm clock. With no snooze button.
How Does The Circadian Rhythm Work?
Through our eyes, our cells respond to light and dark stimuli signalling to the rest of the body that it is either time to sleep or to wake.
When this signal is sent, hormones are released in the body to activate this change.
Melatonin is the hormone released during low light times or exposure to darkness that makes you feel sleepy. Melatonin also continues to release whilst you sleep and is suppressed during the day.
Cortisol is the hormone that makes us more alert and is activated in the morning when it’s light.
Our body also absorbs environmental information that affects our quality of sleep such as noise and temperature levels.
This is why we find it easiest to sleep in a quiet, slightly cooler room.
What Disrupts Our Circadian Rhythm?
“Nothing cures insomnia like the realization that it’s time to get up.” – Anonymous
Unlike other mammals, we are unable to naturally rise and set with the sun. Our busy lifestyles have forced us to sacrifice many aspects of life and sleep is just one of them.
It seems in the last few years there have been more ted talks, podcast discussions, apps and books related to the topic of sleep than ever before, and for good reason too.
Aspects that contribute to the disruption of our circadian rhythms are commonly...
Irregular shift work or working night shifts.
Jet-lag from travel.
Too much screen time resulting in melatonin suppression making it hard to fall asleep
Irregular sleep patterns.
Stress-related factors that increase the body's cortisol levels.
Sleeping disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.
Lack of adequate exercise or movement.
Unhealthy eating habits.
Naturally Maintaining a Healthy Circadian Rhythm
"Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama
Luckily there are a few actions we can take to help reset our natural rhythms.
Prioritize your sleep - Regularly go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Aim for at least 7- 9 hours of sleep each night.
Help your senses. We know that melatonin and cortisol release when triggered by the level of light in our environment. Throw the curtains open the moment you wake or get out in the sunlight for a morning walk. When the sun starts to set, switch off any harsh or bright lights in the home and aim for lower warmer light sources,
Quality sleep is also environmental, so sleep in a warm quiet room that is well ventilated.
Move your body - Go for walks or short runs. Allow for 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. Practice slow yoga in the evenings to help physically and mentally wind down and prepare for sleep.
If you must nap, take a body rest for approx 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
Eat light dinners that are easy to digest.
Wind down your evenings. Instead of binge-watching the latest series, why not opt for a few minutes of reading before bedtime. This will help the mind slow down and before too long you’ll be sound asleep.
Limit your screen time. The blue light which comes from our laptops and phones suppress melatonin secretion in the body, keeping us awake for longer. So no phones in bed!
Set With the Sun
In an ideal world, our circadian rhythms would never be out of sync and we would have no need for alarm clocks.
At the end of the day, what is most disruptive to our natural circadian rhythm are the very actions that prevent us from enjoying good quality sleep.
Luckily, there are ways in which we can rest the natural rhythms which don’t require expensive medication, but rather a few small lifestyle changes.