During these past few winter months have you found yourself exhausted even after 8 hours sleep? Have you been completely awake at night after sleeping in or, experienced a loss of appetite when you should be hungry or, are you craving the wrong foods after a restless night?
Feeling this way may mean your circadian rhythm is out of sync, causing your body to have irregular sleep and eating patterns. Read on to discover what circadian rhythm is, reasons for its importance, circadian rhythm disorders and causes, ways to remedy them, and how to sustain your wake-sleep cycle.
What Is Circadian Rhythm?
Acting like our body’s own “internal clock” the circadian rhythm determines when we wake, sleep and even eat. Interestingly, our gut microbiomes even have their own circadian rhythm! This clever “body time system” is triggered by certain external forces including sunlight and temperature. Our body works in unison with our internal clock to convert triggers like sunlight for instance, into the production of melatonin causing us to feel sleepy.
Each of our circadian rhythms is unique and explains why some of us can stay up later and wake up earlier than others. Managing your circadian rhythm can be as easy as going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Altering this routine can lead to exhaustion, mood disorders, obesity, and mental health problems.
Importance of Our Circadian Rhythm
Bodily Functions that Follow Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythm controls your:
- Sleep-wake cycle
- Hormone release
- Eating habits and digestion
- Body temperature
- And other bodily functions
The circadian rhythm chart provides a visual example of the critical part it plays in maintaining your body’s health every day. Circadian rhythm affects many important functions throughout your body including; temperature, sleep cycle, production of melatonin and more.
Factors Leading to Circadian Rhythm Disorder
Our circadian rhythm by nature is like a pattern. If that pattern is interrupted a disorder can occur. Although there are a number of causes of circadian rhythm disorder, the more popular causes include:
- Lack of sunlight exposure (in particular during winter).
- Disrupted sleep patterns (traveling related jet lag and adjusting to different time zones, night-time activities).
Importantly, getting the wrong type of light at night from a screen or from an overhead light, can trigger the activation of your internal clock at the wrong time, to make you want to stay up later and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
- Abuse of substances such as alcohol, caffeine and hypnotics.
- Irregular meal times throughout the day or night.
- Mental disturbances or issues causing the inability to fall asleep in a timely manner.
How to Recognise if your Circadian Rhythm Has Been Disrupted
According to the Cleveland Clinic symptoms of circadian rhythm disorder include:
- Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep).
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Difficulty waking up in the morning.
- Sleep loss.
- Stress in relationships.
- Poor work/school performance.
- Inability to meet social obligations.
How to heal from Circadian Rhythm Disorder
Keep to a Regular Sleep-Wake Cycle
So that it can function well, your body is designed to have a balanced pattern for when you are sleeping and awake. Going to sleep and getting up at the same time each day will help set your internal clock. Keeping it in check (particularly if changing shift work schedules) will support your body in resetting itself. Each of our circadian rhythms is unique and you may need to experiment with your sleep cycles to find the most suitable time.
Increase Light Exposure
Our circadian rhythm revolves around light and is how our body knows when to produce melatonin so we can sleep. LIGHT (particularly sunlight) is the only direct input or way we can impact the setting of our circadian clocks.
Exposing ourselves to sunlight first thing in the morning as soon as we wake up is a great way of getting our daily dose. Light therapy lamps work too! Getting 10-30 minutes of sunlight every day is recommended. The power of sunset is also imperative to setting the central clock as it can help protect the negative effects of light later in the day! Meaning, viewing sunlight around the time of sunset prevents some of the bad effects of light in, preventing melatonin release later that same night. Many of us especially during winter, miss out on enough sunlight preferring instead to stay indoors.
Avoid bad light
Minimise bright light exposure at night time (i.e. screens, even if the screen is dimmed) as it disrupts the production of melatonin. For this reason, it is important to avoid blue lights during the 2hrs before bedtime!
It is particularly important to avoid blue light between 11pm-4am as it not only effects your sleep cycles it also effects your mood, learning and focus.
Candle lights are a great option at night for lighting as it does not disrupt the production of melatonin – the hormone that signals your body that it’s time to sleep.
Change What You Consume
We all know having certain types of foods and beverages like caffeine and energy drinks can have particular impacts on your sleep. Some people can’t have any caffeine at all or, any caffeine past 11am or, they can’t fall asleep. Caffeine prevents the action of making some of us sleepy by blocking certain receptors needed for this to take place.
It’s also a good idea to only eat during daylight hours. One 13-day study found delayed meal timing to affect the sleep-wake cycle. The findings showed that by delaying meals, plasma glucose production in the body was also delayed and reduced.
Review Sleep Habits
So you can have a quality night’s sleep of at least 6-8 hours, your sleep habits may need to be reviewed. Good habits include; sleeping in pitch black, no lights (including TVs and digital devices), and in a cool environment. Also, limiting the use of electronics before bed can help you relax before sleeping. If you like to nap, try cutting out naps as this may improve your sleep routine or keeping them to 20-90 minutes.
Maintaining Circadian Rhythms
Using the tips for healing circadian rhythm disorder, addressing bad habits and lifestyle along with the following can help manage your circadian rhythm:
Eat a Protein- Based Breakfast
Looking after your protein quantities and making sure they are correct is important to your sleep cycle. Sufficient protein provides your body with increased levels of energy and strength.
Exercise Every Day
Exercising increases your body temperature which has the added benefit of helping you sleep at night. Recent studies indicate that exercise decreases sleep complaints and is effective in not only controlling but helping to reset the sleep-wake cycle as well as raising your wakefulness during the day.
Relax your mind in the evening
Relaxation activities before going to sleep have been proven to help with sleep quality and are also used to treat insomnia. Methods included; meditation, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, deep breathing, gentle stretching, yoga nidra and taking a hot bath.
When you have trouble controlling our mind, use your body to control your mind to help you fall asleep (i.e. yoga nidra, breathing, meditation).
Try these free resources to help you achieve a state of relaxation and well-being before going to sleep.
Yoga Nidra – Guided Meditation to Relax
I AM Yoga Nidra™ led by Liam Gillen
Enjoy interactive hypnosis exercises with Stanford expert Dr. David Spiegel drawn from 40+ years of clinical experience HERE.
Keep a record of your sleep patterns
If despite sticking to a healthy lifestyle you still feel tired regularly, you could try changing your sleep-wake cycle slowly. You may prefer late nights but be functioning as an early riser and vice versa. Tracking your sleep and how you feel may provide the answer.
Stick to a Regular Routine
Your body will more likely stay in balance when your sleeping patterns and meal times are in unison.
Track What You Eat
Keeping track of what you eat by writing it down or storing it in your smartphone can help you identify many important issues. Like, which foods are making you feel tired or are disrupting your circadian rhythm and, not providing you with the nutrients and energy needed to function properly. Your sleep patterns may also be effected in low-carbohydrate states.
Sleep Apps for iPhone & Android
Sleep apps are a growing in popularity and they are developed to help you get to sleep, sleep deeply and also track your sleep patterns. Sleep apps can use methods like attractive visuals, colours, relaxing music as well as sounds of nature to calm you. Others may use a combination of white noise, hypnotherapy and meditation techniques. Click here for more information on available sleep apps.
Want to get Your Circadian Rhythm Working for You? Register for our supportive FREE Move with Women 9-week program run by our Accredited Physiotherapists for women of all ages and stages HERE or call 1800 328 951 to talk to one of our friendly program specialists.