Your circadian rhythm--also known as your body’s internal clock--is responsible for regulating how awake or tired you feel at given points throughout the day. We feel most alert during the day, as well as the need to sleep at night, because our circadian rhythm is controlled by a light-sensitive region in the brain--the hypothalamus.
In order for our circadian rhythm to function optimally, it’s important to maintain consistent wake and sleep times. Unfortunately, things such as staying up later than normal, using electronic devices late at night, shift work schedules, stress levels, illness, and jet lag can easily throw off our sleep cycle.
Fortunately, there are simple strategies to keep your internal clock on track. If you find yourself struggling to fall and/or stay asleep, suffer from exhaustion, fatigue, or lethargy, or feel excessively tired throughout the day, here’s what you should know and implement to help regulate your circadian rhythm:
Enjoy the sunrise and sunset. The more time we spend outside, the more our circadian rhythm syncs with the sun. Today, however, we spend a great deal of time indoors. Make it a priority to get outside 30 minutes before or after the sunrise and/or sunset. All it takes is five minutes to signal to the hypothalamus that it's time to wake up or wind down! It’s important to note, however, that your eyes should be directly exposed to the light (no sunglasses!).
Get outdoors. The more natural light we expose ourselves to, the better and more energized we feel. If you can’t enjoy a mid-day walk, try moving your desk closer to a window. While sunshine is preferable (hello, Vitamin D!), even a cloudy day is more beneficial than artificial light.
Have set mealtimes. Our bodies thrive on routine. And digestion takes a lot of energy. Thus, by regulating our mealtimes, we are able to signal to our body what’s coming next. While attempting to regulate your circadian rhythm, it’s a good idea to adhere to a loose mealtime schedule (aim to eat within the same two-hour window).
Skip the nap. Although napping has been shown to reduce stress and increase productivity, while resetting your circadian rhythm, it’s a good idea to skip your afternoon nap. It can throw a wrench in things.
Limit screen use in the evening. Computers, phones, and tablets--they can all negatively impact our sleep, sadly. The blue light emitted from the screen tells our hypothalamus it’s time to be awake. Try reading a book in bed to wind down instead.
Embrace sleeping with the cycles of the sun. While attempting to reset your circadian rhythm, it’s important to listen to your body. Thus, if the sun has set and you’re feeling tired (even if it’s only 7:30 p.m.), give your body what it’s asking for--at least for the foreseeable future. If you stay up too late, you could catch a second wind and seemingly never wind down.
Transform your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Remove all electronic devices, cover up LED lights, keep your room cool with good circulation, sleep with an eye mask, and try white noise are all helpful tips for creating a zen sleep zone.
Establish a bedtime routine. Even as adults, it’s important to signal to our body that it’s time to wind down. No matter how short and sweet it is, be sure your bedtime routine includes turning off all screens!