How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
How have you been sleeping lately? Are you finding it hard to fall asleep or wake up early? Have you been having trouble staying asleep throughout the night? Or maybe you can’t fall asleep until very late at night?
If you’re answering yes to most of these questions, your circadian rhythm might need a reset. Resetting your circadian rhythm will help you sleep better throughout the night and leave you feeling more awake and alert throughout the day.
What is the circadian rhythm?
The circadian clock is a cluster of around 20,000 neurons in the hypothalamus known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). When your eyes see light in the day, signals travel to the SCN, which tells the body it’s time to be awake. The SCN then releases a series of hormones, like cortisol, to wake you up and get you ready for the day. Later in the day, as the sun sets, the circadian rhythm will release melatonin, causing us to get sleepy and ready for bed.
But the circadian rhythm does more than regulate when you wake up and fall asleep every day. It also plays a role in the regulation of body temperature, mood, fluid balance, hunger and digestion, and several other physiological processes.
For most people, the circadian clock will reset every 24 hours. However, there are individual variations that can affect when you feel tired or not. For example, early risers feel great at 8 am, whereas night owls are dead to the world at such an early hour. Your circadian rhythm will also change and evolve with age.
How to know if your circadian rhythm is off:
Your circadian rhythm can easily be thrown out of whack by things like travel, several nights of bad sleep, and working too late. When your circadian rhythm gets disrupted, it can lead to many different symptoms, largely dealing with when and how you sleep.
Some symptoms of a disrupted circadian rhythm include:
You fall asleep early but keep waking up in the middle of the night
You have an erratic sleep schedule
You can’t sleep when you travel
You can sleep during the weekends, but not on the weekdays when you go to bed earlier
Your wake and sleep time keeps getting pushed back a little every day
You work odd hours
How to reset your circadian rhythm?
Resetting your circadian rhythm really means resetting the timing of when you wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night. It has less to do with how well you fall asleep (though still important), and more to do with your sleep schedule.
Here are our tips for resetting your circadian rhythm:
Limit your screen time:
Our bodies aren’t the best at deciphering the difference between blue light from smartphones, TVs, and computers and sunlight. This means that the more time we spend staring at our screen, the less our circadian rhythm is able to sync up to the natural progression of day and night.
Staring into a bright screen before bed will trick your body into thinking it’s daytime and trigger alertness. Too much screentime before bed will also inhibit the production of melatonin.
Overall, exercise promotes the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Working out can also help your body’s other systems sync up with your circadian rhythm.
New research has suggested that the time of day you exercise will impact your circadian rhythm in different ways. For example, if you have an early wakeup the next day, working out at 7 am or between the hours of 1-4 pm will advance your circadian rhythm. This allows you to feel more refreshed and ready to go after waking up. On the other hand, working out between the hours of 7-10 pm delayed the biological clock, meaning a harder time waking up the next day.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings:
Even if you’re feeling the midday slump, try passing on that mid-afternoon cup of coffee. Even one cup in the afternoon can keep you up for hours after bedtime.
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is highly effective at suppressing melatonin. Further, alcohol has a direct impact on your circadian rhythm, diminishing the ability of your biological clock to respond to light cues that keep it normally in sync. This can prevent you from getting the proper sleep you need.
The circadian rhythm actually impacts how well your body is able to metabolize alcohol, depending on the time of day. The best time of day to drink alcohol without it impacting your sleep is around the traditional “happy hours” or 5-7 pm.
Develop a strong routine:
If you're going to bed and waking up at different times every day, it can be hard for your circadian rhythm to adjust. Instead, try keeping a strict schedule for when you fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. This will help you to eventually fall asleep faster and wake up easier.
Make sure you keep this sleep schedule consistent, even on weekends or days off.
Gradually move your bedtime:
Resetting your circadian rhythm won’t happen overnight. Try gradually shifting your bedtime by half-hour margins until the desired time is reached.
For example, if your normal bedtime is 11 pm and you wake up at 10 am, try going to bed at 10:30 pm and waking up at 9:30 am for a week. Keep shifting back on week intervals until you’ve reached your desired sleep time.
Why is having a good circadian rhythm so important?
Getting the proper rest is one of the most important things you can do to promote optimal health. Without sleep, the body doesn’t have the time to complete vital functions like cellular repair, energy restoration, and promoting heart health. Thus, when your circadian rhythm is out of whack and you’re not sleeping well, you’ll see the effects throughout your entire body.
Continued poor sleep quality can lead to or exacerbate conditions like:
Poor concentration and focus
Poor motor skills
Weakened immune system
High blood pressure
Chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes
Risk of early death
Essentially, you need to get a good night’s sleep to ensure a long and healthy life.
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