What Are Circadian Rhythms & What You Can Do To Reset Them
Human beings are all so unique – different tastes, personalities, schedules, ways of life, etc. So have you ever wondered why we all sleep at night and wake up during the day (unless, of course, we have a night job)?
What makes billions of people follow the same schedule? Who decided that mornings were for waking up and evenings were for falling asleep?
Well, as it turns out, it’s not just tradition. It’s not just habit. Our sleep cycles are actually ingrained into our brains.
When that natural sleep rhythm gets messed up, we are left with sleeping problems. And it just so happens that our modern life is filled with things that actually harm our natural sleep cycles.
I bet it’s even happening to you: do you feel tired, sleepy, and foggy all day? Then when you finally get into bed do you end up staring up at the ceiling wondering why you can’t just fall asleep?
Your circadian rhythm is probably out of whack. So I’m going to show you how to fix it.
What Are Circadian Rhythms?
Years and years ago, all humans followed a sunrise to sunset sort of lifestyle. When the sun was up, they were up and working. When the sun went down, their day was done.
This wasn’t just coincidence; our brains actually have systems in place that follow this rhythm of the day so we know when to wake up and when to fall asleep. It is called our circadian rhythm.
Our bodies were brilliantly in tune with this rhythm. Not only does our sleep follow this pattern, so does our need to eat and even our desire for sex (reproductive drive).
In fact, this rhythm doesn’t just follow the sun; it is actually sensitive to the sun. So light directly effects this cycle.
If you want to have a better understanding of the science behind our circadian rhythms, check out this video. You will learn all about the areas of the brain and scientific phenomena that bring you to your sleep clock here:
Why Your Circadian Rhythm May Be Out Of Whack
But we don’t live in a sun-up/sun-down world anymore.
- We have 24/7 workplaces with swing shifts and graveyard shifts
- We are a globally connected world where we may need to make calls at 2am to other countries for business
- We have street lights that make our neighborhoods look almost as bright as the daylight
- We have electronic lights and screens that make our houses bright during the evening (verses dim and glowy candlelight)
- We have offices that block us from the sunlight during the day.
- We don’t spend nearly as much time outside in the sunshine
All of these things can greatly affect your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to have a healthy, happy sleep cycle.
Plus, jet lag and daylight savings will also harm your circadian rhythm.
This leaves you with no sleep, interrupted sleep, parainsomnias, exhausted days, drowsy mornings, and plenty of stress. Fortunately, there are things you can do about it.
How To Reset Your Circadian Rhythms
So if you struggle with sleep… if you are sleepy all day, yet wide awake at night… if you find your schedule is all over the place… it may be time for you to reset your circadian rhythm.
Here are 5 steps you can take to bring your sleep cycle back on track. (Keep these in mind anytime you are dealing with acute jet lag too!)
1. Take A Melatonin Supplement
Your brain has a particular chemical that helps your circadian rhythm: melatonin. In a healthy sleep cycle, melatonin shoots up in the evening, stays up while you’re sleeping, and then drops early in the morning to help you wake up.
It’s actually light sensitive, which means it works to help you get sleepy when it is dark and alert when it is light.
And keep this in mind: the older you get, the less melatonin you produce. This is one of the many reason older people struggle with insomnia.
So if your sleep cycle is all out of whack, there is a good chance that melatonin could be your key to a reset. This is an all-natural option that won’t bring on terrible side effects or dependency like sleep prescriptions.
2. Turn Down The Lights: Evening
Since light plays such a big part in regulating your circadian rhythm, you will want to be super aware of any light in your bedroom.
The first things to go should be your screens – TVs, tablets, phones, computers, etc. These emit that bright blue light that tricks your body into thinking it is light outside. Keep your bedroom an electronics-free zone.
Also invest in some blackout curtains. Before electricity and urban cities, bedtime was pitch black other than the moon and stars. Now you probably have so much light from outside that you could read a book without a lamp on. Combat this problem with thick, dark curtains.
Finally, keep all your house lights dim in the evening. Use low-light lamps instead of overhead lights.
3. Turn Up The Lights: Morning
Then in the mornings, the opposite is true. Immediately let the sunshine into your bedroom and your house when you wake up. Turn on your bright kitchen light.
As you go through your day, stay in as much light as possible. If you work in a dim office, go outside during your breaks. Take a walk in the sunshine. Eat your lunch on an outdoor bench.
Keep your waking hours as bright as you can (especially from natural light) until evening.
4. Have A Bedtime
Your kids have a bedtime, and you need one too. Keep in mind, we are talking about a circadian rhythm. TO help that rhythm, you need to stick to a… you guessed it… rhythm.
Staying up late a night or two a week or turning in really early is not helping you reset your natural sleep cycle; it’s confusing it even more.
Find a bedtime that works for you. Make it a time that allows you to get a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep during your workweek. Then stick to it. Make sure to start winding down and getting ready for bed an hour early. That way when it is time to lie down, you are all ready to go.
4. Don’t Indulge In “Catch Up” Sleep
If you haven’t slept well the past few nights because your sleep cycle is all messed up, you are probably craving some catch up sleep – like a nice nap or a few extra hours to sleep in.
Yes, these can feel great at the time, but you will be ultimately harming your natural sleep cycle. You’ll be less likely to fall asleep at your bedtime and then the evil cycle will keep running its course.
If you are truly exhausted and must have a few minutes of sleep, make sure your nap stays under 20 minutes.
If you find yourself hitting your snooze time and time again to get a few extra minutes of sleep, try one of the intuitive alarm apps on your phone (but if you keep your phone on the room, turn off the screen brightness!).
These apps will monitor your sleep cycle and then wake you up when you are at your lightest sleep. Just give it a half hour range of when you need to wake up. Then keep to that range. This means, you may wake up between 7:00am and 7:30am every single day. Perfect for your sleep cycle regulation!
This may be the most enjoyable tip on our list. When you are tent camping, you are exposing your body to the exact rhythm you want for your circadian rhythm. Darkness at night; bright light during the day. A calming fire and the stars are the only thing lighting up your evening. And that bright, bright sunlight becomes your alarm clock.
There are no screens, bright fake lights, or city lights to interrupt your schedule. PLUS – you are not working any odd hours when you’re taking your camping vacation.
Therefore, camping can be the perfect way to reset your clock. And a study even showed it to be true.
Eight people went camping for a week. They were not allowed to bright any sort of electronics with light – no flashlights, no phones, nothing. Within that week, people were able to sync to that natural pattern.
The study showed that all of our electrical light and electronic screens – as well as our decreased exposure to natural sunlight – has a large and negative impact on our circadian rhythms.
By the way, the increased level of exercise you get when camping can help you sleep better too. Maybe that should be a lesson for our everyday lives.
Your Circadian Rhythm & Your Sleep
If you struggle with your sleep and/or sleep cycle, you are definitely not alone. This is an extremely common problem among adults. On top of following all these tips to reset your circadian rhythm, you should also try the following:
- Take an all-natural sleep aid: I like to add magnesium and valerian root to my melatonin for a restful night’s sleep. Eu Natural’s Serenity sleep aid is an all-natural combo that does just that.
- Exercise, but not at night: Staying active throughout the day is a perfect way to tire out your body for bedtime. But don’t do it right before bed. That activity will boost your adrenaline and keep you wide awake.
- Talk to your doctor: There is a chance that you could actually have a medical sleep disorder that is keeping you from prime sleep. Your doctor can run tests and give you a diagnosis, then a treatment plan.
Read Next: Can Valerian Root Help You Sleep?