From the moment we wake up to the moment we hit the sack, we live around the clock. We do our best to be on time and to stay on schedule.
But did you know that there’s an internal clock within your brain that governs everything, from your sleep patterns, biological functions, hormone production, and how you feel throughout the day?
This internal clock is super important for your daily life. So, why not take some time to recognize your own, and learn what you can do to keep it healthy and in good order.
What’s Circadian Rhythm?
The word, “circadian” means “around” (circa) “the day” (dies). This old term is still relevant today. It’s used to refer to your waking and sleeping patterns, all of which are determined by a specific part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (or SCN). It’s an area of your brain near your optic nerves.
So, this means that natural light plays a big role in your own circadian rhythm.
Melatonin Production Supports Your Internal Clock
As the sun sets, there’s naturally less light for our brain to notice. When the daylight fades, our melatonin production increases. This hormone helps us feel sleepy, tired and all around ready for bed.
Conversely, when the sun rises, our brains are signaled to turn off melatonin production and we can start to feel more alert and awake.
This is why things like night shifts, jet lag and disrupted sleep patterns can throw our circadian production off. It’s partly due to a disruption in our melatonin production because we’re not exposed to the same pattern of sunlight.
Genes Influence Your Circadian Rhythm
But light isn’t the only factor guiding your body’s internal clock. Genes are another important influence. This study found that if you have one of fifteen genetic variants, you’re more likely to be a morning person.
And of course, while there are many other factors contributing to someone’s internal clock, “the genetic effect still shines through,” according to University of Michigan geneticist Jun Li.
Hunger, Metabolism and Your Internal Clock
Your circadian rhythm impacts so much more than just your sleep patterns. Hormones produced during sleep impact your appetite and your metabolism. Your immunity and natural defense mechanisms are also supported by adequate sleep. Even your heart is affected by your internal Swiss watch.
And when your own internal clock is thrown off, all these other important systems are naturally compromised. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge and honor your body’s unique biological needs.
How Early Birds Can Keep Your Internal Clock in Check
Early risers make up about 10% of people. They like to get up between 5 AM and 6:30 AM. For these early birds, your circadian rhythm syncs up nicely with the natural daylight.
Even though early birds have this advantage, there are still simple tweaks that they can make to their daily routine to keep their internal clock ticking smoothly.
- Since you already like to get up early, try to get some natural light during the afternoon, too. This will keep you energized for the rest of your day.
- Avoid screen time several hours before going to bed. This will allow your body to start producing melatonin on its own. Plus, it’s a good way to relax your mind instead of stimulating it.
- Exercise in the morning, rather than the evening.
- Take early shifts rather than later shifts. This will keep you, and everyone else, a lot happier!
Circadian Rhythm for Night Owls
But what if you’re not the type of person who wakes up perky in the early hours of the morning? What if you become more alert and engaged as the day progresses?
Maybe you’re at your best closer to midnight – a time when early birds are already fast asleep?
Your job or family probably needs you whether you’re a night owl or not. So here are some easy ways to deal with your own internal clock in a healthy way.
- Try to sleep with the curtains or blinds open so that the sunlight can flood your bedroom and wake you up gently.
- Try to expose your eyes to natural sunlight in the morning. This can mean doing your exercise routine, or eating your breakfast in a sunlit space.
- Keep a consistent sleep pattern. Yes, even on the weekends! This can help prevent feelings of jetlag.
- Avoid screen time several hours before going to bed. This will allow your body to start producing melatonin on its own. Plus, it’s a good way to relax your mind instead of stimulating it!
What To Do If Your Internal Clock is Out of Whack
Life happens and sometimes that means you have to wake up earlier, or stay up later than you’d like. Traveling, jobs and parenting can challenge our circadian rhythm.
So, here are some simple things you can do to get back on track.
- Try not to sleep in. This will ensure that your body is adequately tired for your nightly sleep.
- Try not to nap. This can disrupt your nightly sleep patterns, too.
- Be consistent with your sleep schedule. If you usually get up at 6:30, try to rise and shine early. Yes, even on the weekends!
- Keep your home and bedroom dimly lit as bedtime approaches. This will help signal your brain to produce melatonin. It will be easier to transition into a state of relaxation and sleep this way.
- Keep stimulation at bay. This can be television shows, computer work, cell phones and engaging music. Instead, light candles, and listen to a relaxing playlist. You can fill your room with the soothing aromas of lavender and chamomile. You can also indulge in a quieting cup of herbal tea, too.
- Meet with a trusted health care professional about using melatonin supplements and light therapy to support your body’s biological needs.
Sleep is invaluable, and your internal clock makes sure your body gets enough sleep. Your mind and body depend on it. Use these simple tips to honor your own circadian rhythm and stay on track.