If you’ve ever talked about your biological clock, then you’re touching on a field of science called chronobiology. All organisms respond to innate biological timers, which biologists call circadian rhythms. These rhythms are measured over a 24-hour period of night and day, with their effect on mental, behavioral and physical processes researched and documented .
As a result, we now understand that animals, plants and microbes are all affected by circadian rhythms. Every tissue in our body has its own biological clock (molecular components that regulate our circadian rhythm). Consequently, when we’re out of sync with these natural timers, we suffer negative consequences such as sleep disorders, obesity, depression, diabetes and SAD (seasonable affective disorder) .
The circadian rhythm in humans dates back to the beginning of our evolution, when we relied on the light and dark to help us hunt, sleep, and mark time. Humans have a master clock in their brains called the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus) that coordinates our sleep cycle. It’s actually our eyes that respond to our environment and tell our hypothalamus to release melatonin (the sleep hormone) and prompt us go to bed. Interestingly, blue light from electronic devices suppresses melatonin, which is why being on your phone before bed is best avoided.
Our circadian cycle is produced by natural factors such as light. Two genes known as the ‘period’ and ‘cryptochrome’ genes trigger feelings of both wakefulness and sleepiness. At night, they build up proteins in the SCN, which then lessen during the day. Put simply, light triggers your body to induce wakefulness, while darkness triggers your body to induce sleepiness. When this process is balanced, important functions such as hormone release, eating, digestion, and body temperature remain healthy and consistent .
Now you understand the sleep science, let’s take a look at how to sync your circadian cycle. Before we begin, it’s worth noting that shift work, jet lag, a big night out, and travelling across time zones will disrupt your circadian rhythm. However, it’s still important to retrain your body’s biological clock as soon as possible.
Try introducing the following lifestyle changes to enjoy the benefits of an improved circadian rhythm.
Prime your environment for morning sunlight and nighttime darkness. Black-out blinds and Lumie Bodyclocks (bedside lamps that mimic sunrises) are great ways to maximise sleep in the urban jungle we call home.
Whatever helps you relax before bed, be sure to wind down and decompress before heading off to the land of nod.
If you insist on that afternoon nap, limit it to no more than 30 minutes and no later than 3pm to avoid nighttime disruptions.
Considering all the cells in our body have their own biological clock, exercising during the day is essential for regulating and aligning your circadian rhythm.
Tranquillity is key to a great night sleep. Earplugs, white noise machines and meditative music are helpful tools if you live in a noisy environment.
Keep your room between 12˚C and 24˚C to maximise sleep quality. Any colder or warmer is shown to affect sleep quality.
Maintain a regular eating schedule to help your body adapt to a routine. Try to eat at least 2-hours before going to bed so you have enough time to digest your food.
Implement a sleep schedule to help train and reset your biological clock. A regular bedtime and wakeup routine is known for its various health benefits .
If you’re struggling with sleep and you’ve tried all of these tips and lifestyle changes, you might be suffering from a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. If that’s the case, contact your GP, who can advise you on next steps.
Sleep Foundation. (2020, September 25). Circadian Rhythm. Sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm
National Institute of General Medical Sciences. (2021, January 21). Circadian Rhythms. Nigms.Nih.Gov. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx#:~:text=Circadian%20rhythms%20can%20influence%20important,Body%20temperature
Frontiers in Physiology. (2019, June 25). New Insights into the Circadian Rhythm and its Related Diseases. Frontersin.org/articles. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.00682/full
health.gov. (2020, October 15). Get Enough Sleep. Health.Gov/Myhealthfinder. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep
Originally published May 6, 2021 06:49:45 PM UTC. Updated May 7, 2021 07:30:23 PM UTC.