Circadian Rhythm: What it is, why it’s important, and how to fix & maintain yours
Have you ever found yourself being exhausted in winter months when you wake up, wide awake at night after sleeping in, or not hungry during your normal eating hours?
If so, chances are your circadian rhythm is thrown off causing your body to have irregular sleep and eating patterns. This guide will help you understand what circadian rhythm is, why it is important, the causes of circadian rhythm disorders, how to fix them, and how to maintain your sleep-wake cycle.
WHAT IS CIRCADIAN RHYTHM?
Circadian rhythm is the body's "internal clock" that tells us when to sleep, wake up, and eat. This internal clock is influenced by outside factors such as sunlight and temperature. Our body works with our internal clock (also known as a master clock) to translate cues from our surroundings. For example, when our body picks up on these cues, such as sunlight, this cue is then signaled to the suprachiasmatic nucleus which then sparks the production of melatonin to cause us to feel sleepy.
Everyone's circadian rhythm is different. This is why some people stay up later and wake up earlier than others. The key here is to maintain your circadian rhythm by going to bed and waking up at the same time. Disrupting your circadian rhythm can result in exhaustion, mood disorders, obesity, and mental health problems.
Why is Circadian Rhythm Important?
Your circadian rhythm helps guide your body to let it know when to sleep and when to be awake. It's crucial in helping us regain energy lost from being awake and performing daily activities. Without a properly functioning circadian rhythm, our bodies are prone to exhaustion, mental disorders, obesity, and other physical illness. Your circadian rhythm helps you maintain a healthy sleep-wake schedule to function properly. Keeping it in check is important to stay mentally and physically healthy.
What Bodily Functions Follow circadian Rhythms?
Circadian rhythm influences your:
- Sleep-wake cycle
- Hormone release
- Eating habits and digestion
- Body temperature
- And other bodily functions
The circadian rhythm chart highlighted in the section offers a visual example of the importance of your circadian rhythm.
What Causes Circadian Rhythm Disorder?
By design,, the circadian rhythm is, in fact, a rhythm or pattern. And when that pattern is thrown off, a disorder can develop. While there are many causes of circadian rhythm disorder, the most common causes include:
- Lack of exposure to sunlight (especially during winter months)
- Irregular sleep patterns (jet lag from traveling to different time zones, nighttime activities, etc.) or inability to get a deep sleep
- Misuse of alcohol, hypnotics, and stimulants (i.e. drinking too much coffee)
- Eating at an irregular time of day (too late at night)
- Mental illness that may cause the inability to fall asleep in a timely manner
How to KNow if YOur Circadian Rhythm is Off
According to WebMD, symptoms of circadian rhythm disorder include:
- Difficulty initiating sleep
- Difficulty maintaining sleep
- Nonrestorative sleep (always feeling tired after getting an adequate amount of sleep)
- Daytime sleepiness
- Poor concentration
- Impaired performance with a decrease in cognitive skills
- Poor psychomotor coordination
- Gastrointestinal distress
How Do You Fix Circadian Rhythm Disorder?
Each solution will vary depending on the cause of circadian rhythm disorder, but there are a few best practices to fix it:
Develop a regular sleep-wake cycle
In order to function properly, your body needs to have a steady pattern when you are sleeping and awake. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help keep your body's internal clock in check. Doing so (especially when adjusting to shift work or time shift) will help your body reset itself. Everyone's circadian rhythm is different which means you might need to experiment with your sleep schedule to find the ideal sleep cycle.
Increase your exposure to light
Light is at the center of our circadian rhythm, it's how our body determines when to produce melatonin to sleep. Most of us do not get enough sunlight (especially during winter months) since we're almost always inside. Try to expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning after waking up. It can be natural or from a light therapy lamp. It's recommended to get 10-30 minutes of sunlight several times per week.
Change your consumption habits
Consuming certain foods such as caffeine can have adverse effects on your circadian rhythm. You can also try melatonin pills before going to bed to aid in sleep. It's best to consult your doctor and have tests done to see if your body is lacking the needed nutrients for healthy sleep and energy.
It's also a good practice to only eat when the sun is up. One 13-day study found delayed meal timing to affect the sleep-wake cycle. The research found that by delaying meals, plasma glucose production in the body was both delayed and reduced.
Improve your sleep habits
No sleep is the same. In order to get a quality 6-8 hours of sleep, your sleep habits must be in check. Sleep in pitch black, without any lights (including TVs), and in a cool environment (experts recommend a room temperature of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit) are three good habits to maintain. Not only this but limit your use of electronics before bed can help your mind unwind before sleeping. If you are an avid napper, attempt to cut out naps and see if this improves your sleep schedule.
How to Maintain Circadian Rhythm?
When it comes to maintaining your circadian rhythm, the top tricks and advice is also related to fixing circadian rhythm disorder as we've mentioned above. Often times, a poor circadian rhythm stems from poor habits and lifestyle. Use these tips to manage your circadian rhythm:
Eat a protein-rich breakfast
Keeping your protein levels adequate is vital to your sleep-wake cycle. Proper protein levels gives you more energy and strength.
Our mind is most active when we are tired. By doing something creative before bed, your mind won't be distracted when trying to sleep.
Turn off your wi-fi before bed
This will further keep you from being distracted or tempted to get online when attempting to sleep.
Track Your Sleep
As we've mentioned earlier, everyone's circadian rhythm is different. This explains why some people are "early risers" while others are "night owls." If you find yourself constantly tired but have a healthy lifestyle, try slowly changing your sleep-wake cycle. You may be a night owl functioning as an early riser and vice versa. Keeping track of your sleep and how you feel can give you that answer.
Maintain a Routine
Keep your sleep-wake cycle and eating times in sync will help your body stay in rhythm.
Keep track of what you eat
Try writing down what you eat or keeping it in your smartphone. That way if you feel tired and don't know why you can see which foods may throw off your circadian rhythm or not give you the needed energy to function properly.
Top Rated Circadian Rhythm Apps
Studies on circadian rhythm are nothing new. Experts have been studying this subject for quite some time now. And as technology has gotten more advanced, so have our solutions. We've compiled a few smartphone apps that can help you understand, fix, or maintain your circadian rhythm.
Solar Clock: Circadian Rhythm
Uses the solar clock and your circadian rhythm to notify you when you should be working out, awake, and sleeping. It includes an alarm clock to keep you in check with your circadian rhythm.Download for Android
Frequently Asked Questions
What does circadian rhythm mean?
The term circadian rhythm originates from latin with circa meaning "around" and dian meaning "day." Processes involving 24-hour cycles are typically called "diurnal rhythms." Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle of living organisms. They've been studies in humans, plants, animals, fungi, and cyanobacteria.
About the Author
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.