Sleep is Vital for Your Health
July 26, 2021
How to Regulate Your Circadian Rhythm
Sleep is an essential ingredient for all aspects of our health – mental and physical, as well as quality of life, and personal safety. The body rejuvenates during sleep which has a direct impact on the immune system, metabolism, the brain, and more.
Many people struggle to get adequate quality and quantity sleep.
The National Institutes of Health states 1/3 of US adults are not getting sufficient sleep every night and 50-70 million Americans suffer with sleep disorders.
Lack of sleep quality and/or quantity has been shown to contribute to:
- Increased anxiety
- Increased appetite (and poorer food choices)
- Reduced brain detoxification (glymphatic drainage)
- Mood instability and higher emotional response to stimuli
- Reduced cognitive abilities (concentration, memory, focus, information recall, critical thinking)
A consistent circadian rhythm allows for increased physical energy, mental concentration, and productivity.
Melatonin is a hormone made and released by the pineal gland in response to the circadian cycle. One way that melatonin helps us sleep is by affecting circadian rhythm regulation. When darkness falls, our circadian rhythm slows down, and we produce more melatonin. More melatonin leads to having less light stimulation and we sleep.
Photoreceptors of the eye called retinal ganglion cells detect light.
The light is then delivered to a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which relays the signal to other organs and glands, like the pineal gland. These receptors aren’t responsible for vision, and they work when our eyes are closed and in the visually impaired.
Controlling light is a great way to regulate your sleep/wake cycles. The retinal ganglion cells are most sensitive to light in the two hours before you go to bed and one hour after rising, therefore your light exposure during these periods of time each day will have the most impact on your circadian rhythm.
Avoiding bright, artificial lighting at least two hours before bedtime can improve your ability to fall asleep. Blue light emitted from electronic screens is particularly stimulating to the brain before sleep and should be limited or avoided before bedtime. Ensure your bedroom is free from as much light as possible while sleeping. Using a sleep mask can help if you can’t turn off all lights. In the mornings, to assist with waking up well, bright light (especially natural sunlight) within one hour can boost the wakefulness signals.
What are some natural methods for regulating circadian rhythms?
Create a normal routine for bedtime and wake up time
The same activities at the same times each day help your circadian rhythm self-regulate, and it also helps your brain know what to expect. Having the same bedtime and wake time each day is also an important way to regulate circadian rhythms. This can be difficult when you have different work and school schedules, but every bit of consistency helps in the long run. Set up your environment for the best sleep – cool, quiet, and dark!
Be mindful of what you eat and when
Stimulating substances, like caffeine, taken in later in the day can interrupt sleep patterns. Depressive substances, like alcohol, may seem like they help with sleep, but they interfere with the brain’s ability to get into deep sleep. Eating too close to bedtime can also interfere with quality sleep. The body needs to expend energy in digestion, and this can interfere with the circadian rhythm.
Limit stimulation of all kinds before sleep
Watching, listening, or reading materials that make your heart rate increase can keep you from falling asleep. Critical thinking, stressing about, or planning for big projects can also keep your brain stimulated and prevent deep sleep.
Manage stress levels
Stress releases hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol raises your blood sugar in anticipation of the need to flee or fight. Various methods can help you improve stress levels – breathing exercises, physical exercise, journaling, meditation, and more have been shown to provide benefit.
Get back in rhythm
The circadian rhythm is a natural cycle of sleep and wakefulness – regulating it can help you feel better. Eating healthy foods, limiting processed foods, being mindful of stimulating or depressive ingredients, managing light exposures, avoiding going to bed with a full stomach, and maintaining a calm, relaxing environment can prepare your body for a quality night of sleep.