If you struggle to fall asleep and wake up at a given time or feel tired and sleepy throughout the day, your circadian rhythm might be off. This article will help you understand how circadian rhythms work and how you can get back on rhythm to achieve healthier sleep.
Circadian Rhythm Meaning
A circadian rhythm is an internal clock that runs constantly and cycles between sleepiness and alertness. The system is designed to maintain the sleep-wake cycle and regulate your sleep pattern.
Humans aren't the only ones with a circadian rhythm; in fact, every living thing has a circadian rhythm. Microbes, plants, and animals subscribe to the system. In the scientific world, there's an entire field dedicated to studying the way circadian rhythms work, and it's known as chronobiology.
How Do Circadian Rhythms Work?
The organs and tissues within the human body are managed by a circadian rhythm, which is controlled by a master clock. According to experts, this clock dictates everything from your sleeping and waking time to when your body should feel hungry. It's solely responsible for taking care of your rhythm and syncing it to your daily routines, triggering when you should start feeling tired or when you should get up and be active depending on the time of the day.
The circadian clock is situated in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. It receives light signals to power the eyes from the retina and sends information to different parts of the brain, like the pineal gland, which releases melatonin.
Throughout the day, these signals vary, and it's the precise reason why the circadian rhythm works in tandem with the sun's cycle. During the night, the SCN receives a signal that darkness is creeping in, triggering the brain to release melatonin. Once released, the brain begins to feel tired, which eventually leads you to feel sleepy. During the day, the opposite happens, because melatonin production is suppressed by light.
That said, it is normal to feel energy dips throughout the day, especially during afternoons. The extent to which you feel these dips is dependent on habits, occupation, and age.
How To Manage A Healthy Circadian Rhythm?
Over the years, scientific studies have revealed a strong link between circadian rhythms, cardiovascular activity, weight control, digestion, the immune system, and cognition. To keep all these factors in shape and steer away from circadian rhythm sleep disorders, it's important to develop the following daily habits, which are geared toward supporting and maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
a) Maintaining A Sleep Schedule That Is Consistently Healthy
Having a set bedtime is imperative to keeping the circadian rhythm on track. By adhering to a strict sleep-wake cycle, you're training your body and its master clock to adapt to any variance in your nightly routine, like waking up during the night.
After a restless night, it may be tempting to catch up on sleep, but you're better off resisting this urge. Instead, turn in for the night at your regular time, and your body will adjust accordingly by syncing to your usual sleep-wake cycle, leaving you fully refreshed and back on track for a healthy sleep pattern. On weekends, it is not advisable to take a long nap or sleep away the whole weekend, as this will worsen the circadian rhythm.
Keep in mind that your body starts to get melatonin trigger signals around 9 PM, and during the early morning hours, they fade completely.
b) Getting Outside Every Morning
If your eyes are exposed to light every morning, your brain will be triggered to process smaller amounts of melatonin. When trying to wake up, the first thing you should do is open the blinds.
If there is enough time, you should take a short walk outside or spend a few minutes on the porch to get some fresh air. By exposing yourself to fresh air and sunshine in the morning, you can reset your internal clock for the day.
c) Skipping The Afternoon Nap
By staying active throughout the day, you can keep your circadian rhythm balanced. Doing so allows the body to make use of all the energy it stores before sleeping time.
If you have a problem sleeping during the night, you should avoid taking a nap during the day at all costs, because it may mess up your entire sleep schedule. The longer you are awake, the better the chances are that your body will be eagerly awaiting sleep time at night.
d) Avoiding Heavy Meals And Caffeine During The Day
What you eat is essential in shaping your sleeping pattern. Many people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders consume a lot of caffeine and heavy-starch foods, which are tough to digest.
When the master clock suspects that digestion is about to take place, it releases melatonin. This sends a signal to the liver to create enzymes that turn calories into energy. As a result, you might struggle to enjoy a good night's sleep, so make sure to avoid eating a heavy dinner or consuming foods late at night.
How Do Researchers Study Circadian Rhythms?
Scientists use animals and organisms to study circadian rhythms and learn how to manage circadian rhythm sleep disorders.Different organisms, such as fruit flies or mice, have different biological clock genes; therefore, it's easy for researchers to study how they react when their dark and light periods are altered.
Can you change circadian rhythm?
Yes, you can. Circadian rhythm disorders happen when the natural sleep-wake cycle is messed with. Since sleep disorders may cause health problems, it's important to work on the proper timing of your rhythm by seeking the best treatment options for the disorder. Light Therapy is one of the many ways that helps in certain health conditions through the exposure to artificial light. Also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, it aims to reset your circadian rhythm.
This article has highlighted the best ways to help you comfortably fall asleep at night, so you can achieve a healthy sleep-wake rhythm. If you try these tips, you should feel more well-rested in no time.
- National Institute of General Medical Studies: https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx
- Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12115-circadian-rhythm-disorders
- Integris: https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2019/march/what-is-your-circadian-rhythm
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronobiology