Learn how to fix your circadian rhythm by improving your sleep schedule.
Circadian cycles are internal processes that repeat roughly every 24 hours. Circadian rhythms originate within an organism and respond to the environment.
Simplified, the circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that determines when you’re sleepy and when you’re awake. While it includes sleep/wake cycles, it also controls hormone release patterns.
“Circadian clocks turn on and off thousands of genes at the right time of the day or night,” says TEDx speaker and professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, Dr. Satchin Panda. “These rhythms work together to maintain a healthy balance of brain chemicals, hormones and nutrients.”
But these rhythms can break down, which means that falling asleep and, importantly, stating sleep isn’t always easy. Even if you know all about sleep’s health benefits and have first-hand experience of how wonderful a day can feel like after a good night’s sleep, it can be hard to achieve this day in and day out.
This can be fixed by tuning your daily sleeping habits, as well eating patterns, and getting the right amount of light.
If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or wake up feeling exhausted, learn how to improve your sleep schedule to help you fix your circadian rhythm and get a better night’s rest.
What is circadian rhythm?
A circadian rhythm is the physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, or roughly the length of a day.
Circadian rhythms control our body temperature, hormone levels, blood pressure and other bodily functions throughout the day and night.
The body’s daily cycle of sleeping and waking is a circadian rhythm, which is controlled by genes and hormones.
Why is circadian rhythm important?
Sleep is essential for good health. It can help you reduce stress, strengthen your immune system, increase your alertness, and improve your ability to concentrate.
However, getting enough sleep is easier said than done. A US Sleep Foundation poll conducted in 2020 found that almost half of all Americans feel sleepy during the day for three or more days during the week. Additionally, more than a third of Americans have reported having trouble sleeping on a regular basis.
By learning how to fix your circadian rhythm, you will not only be improving your sleep but health in general.
Inconsistent sleep schedules are not only about feeling tired; having a disrupted circadian rhythm can cause other health problems, too. For instance, it has been linked to diabetes, obesity and depression.
How to fix your circadian rhythm?
Sleep is a vital part of health and well-being but getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult. Learning how to fix your circadian rhythm can help, and a big part of it has to do with your sleep schedule.
- Follow a regular bedtime routine: this will help you synchronise your internal clock with your external environment.
- Get enough sleep every night: this encompasses at least seven hours for adults and nine hours for teenagers, so that your body has time to complete one full cycle of sleep stages, from stage 1 (light sleep) to stage 4 (deep sleep).
- Get enough sunlight during the day: our bodies are designed to wake up with the sun, so when we don’t get enough sunlight during the day our internal clocks can get thrown out of whack, which can lead to sleep problems.
- Stay active during the day: regular exercise helps regulate your body clock, as well as melatonin (sleep hormone) rhythms, and makes it easier for people to fall asleep at night.
- Light therapy: light is the most potent environmental cue for the circadian system, so exposure to robust and regular Light/Dark cycles can help reinforce standard hormone release patterns. Jet lag, shift work, or seasonal affective disorder can also affect our circadian rhythm and have been treated with light therapy.
- Schedule your meals: for many people, food is available any time during the day or night which, while convenient, can lead to imbalanced metabolic function and, in return, disrupt circadian function. Scheduling your meal times has, however, been shown to increase sleep quality.
What is regulated by circadian rhythms?
Circadian rhythms are found in nearly every cell in the body, from your heart to your brain to your muscles. They help regulate metabolism (energy production), hormone levels, cell regeneration, and other important functions.
Circadian rhythms also influence our moods and behaviour; for example, we feel less alert early in the morning than later in the day when our bodies are primed for activity.
Common circadian rhythm disorders
Circadian rhythms — natural cycles that control when we feel sleepy or awake — affect our ability to sleep. It’s normal for people’s circadian clocks to run at slightly different times. But if yours is running so far off that it interferes with your daily life, you may have a disorder called “circadian rhythm sleep disorder.”
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders can cause extreme difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia), as well as trouble waking up during the day (hypersomnia). They also include:
- delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)
- advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS)
- non-24-hour sleep wake disorder (non-24)
- irregular sleep-wake rhythm
A 2013 study found that there is “growing concern that chronic disruption of the sleep/wake cycle contributes to more serious conditions including diabetes (type 2), cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
What causes circadian misalignment?
Your internal body clock can be affected by a number of factors including lack of sleep, jet lag, and shift work. Additionally, inconsistent wake time and bedtime schedules won’t allow your circadian rhythms to thrive.
Low exposure to light soon after waking up, lack of regular exercise, and consuming alcohol and caffeine late into the evening can also disrupt circadian cycles.
Try to avoid these patterns – or counteract them with the tips above if that’s not possible – to improve your circadian cycles.