Why It’s Important To Optimize Your Circadian Rhythm
Modern life has wreaked havoc on our body’s natural rhythms. With a few simple adjustments, you can get them back on track.
Like an internal clock, your circadian rhythm helps your body regulate its functions, from sleeping and waking to eating, ovulating and digesting. Like the ebbs and flows of nature, your body runs on a cyclical pattern thanks to this biological mechanism.
Productivity, focus, immunity and even your energy metabolism are affected by your circadian rhythm, which resets every 24 hours with the rising sun. However, our modern lifestyles, coupled with ever-present technology, have adversely affected our circadian rhythms. Far too often we stay up late, don’t go outside enough, spend too much time on our computers, stare at smartphones before bed and keep ourselves awake with caffeine.
When your circadian rhythm is off, you feel off. Your brain gets foggy, your mood and energy plummet, and your body becomes sluggish and fatigued, even in the middle of the day. Kids who’ve spent day and night starting at computer, smartphone and TV screens have a hard time getting to sleep, then become exhausted and agitated during waking hours.
The good news is that despite all the disturbances we encounter daily, there are simple, effective ways to get back on track:
5 ways to help regulate your circadian rhythm
- Regulate sleep
First and foremost, getting enough sleep, and going to sleep at consistent hours, helps restore your circadian rhythm. Many of us don’t get nearly enough sleep. Children ages six to twelve should get 9–12 hours of sleep, while teens should sleep 8–10 hours.
2. Go outside
Exposing yourself to natural light, especially in the morning and throughout the day, tells your body it’s time to get up and be active. Plus, Vitamin D from the sun’s rays is vital for both your physical and mental health. Even 15 minutes outdoors helps you feel refreshed and grounded. In the depths of winter, supplement the minimal sunlight with light therapy boxes, which are effective in mimicking the mood-boosting effects of the sun.
Ramping up your heart rate not only strengthens your cardiovascular system, it also helps you sleep better. If possible, set up a workout routine as a way to build strength and endurance and enjoy a better night’s sleep.
4. Eat a healthy breakfast
We so often forget that food is fuel and that eating first thing in the morning helps provide ample energy for the day ahead. Foods that are rich in protein, whole grains and fiber help keep you satisfied longer, staving off energy crashes from eating processed, high-sugar foods.
5. Turn off devices
Rather than bring your phone or computer to bed, try reading a book or meditating. Tablets, TVs, computers, cellphones and LED bulbs all emit blue light, which adversely affect sleep. Say goodnight to electronics two hours before bedtime, and keep devices out of reach.
The effect of blue light
Blue light naturally suppresses melatonin, a hormone that’s produced when darkness descends, signaling that it’s time to sleep. This type of light helps keep you active and awake and is what our screens emit.
Until the advent of electricity, we rose and slept along with the sun, the biggest producer of blue light. When the sun sets, it signals to our bodies that bedtime is near. While we should be getting ready for bed we’re unwinding by zoning out on our screens, which keeps us wired rather than tired. As a result, it takes us longer to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Protect yourself from blue light overexposure
Since we often work, study and communicate via our screens, it’s not easy to put them away for long periods of time. However, we can make a conscious effort to set a digital curfew if possible, switching off electronics, putting them away and out of reach an hour or two before bed, and at the very least dimming the screens.
Blue light–blocking glasses have gained popularity in recent years for both adults and children. They’re specially crafted to filter out blue light and reduce glare. Wearing them while working in front of screens, especially during the evening, helps support your body’s natural circadian rhythms and get a better night’s sleep.
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