We all go to sleep and wake up in mostly regular cycles. We also know that we get hungry around certain parts of the day. The times when we wake up and go to sleep, but also many other physiological activities go in a regular cycle. A circadian rhythm is an internal clock that represents the cycle of your daily physiological activities such as sleeping, eating, heart function but also hormone release, body temperature, tissue repair, metabolism, alertness and many other things. Your circadian rhythm is affected by your own daily and lifestyle habits, but also by factors such as light\darkness and genes.
What Has an Effect on Your Circadian Rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm adapts to your daily habits. For example if you go to bed late every night even if you feel sleepy much earlier than that, with time you will notice that you won’t get sleepy early anymore and you will be naturally able to stay up until later at night. Or, if you force yourself to wake up early in the morning even you feel extremely sleepy, overtime your body will adapt to that and you will be able to wake up early naturally without feeling tired.
How Do You Get Disrupted Circadian Rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm can get disrupted by changes in your daily routine as a results of some new events and changes in your life. For example: a jet lag, getting a new job, moving in or staying in a different country with a different time zone etc.
But the circadian rhythm is also affected by external factors such as sunlight and change of seasons. That’s why many people feel that their circadian rhythm becomes disrupted in winter, when the days are shorter and there is not a lot of sunlight.
A disrupted circadian rhythm can affect your mental and physical health, your concentration and even your ability to be active and functional. That is why it’s important to fix it.
What Can You Do to Reset a Disrupted Circadian Rhythm?
1. Expose Yourself to Some Sunlight (Especially in Winter)
Bright light (sunlight) signals to your body to be awake. Our skin and eyes have photo-receptors that are sensitive to this light, and that send signals to the brain that it’s time to be alert and awake. If you expose yourself to sunlight during the day (especially in winter) it will be easier for your body to be awake during the day but also to produce melatonin at night and help you sleep better. In summer the days are longer, and the weather is hot so you may not need to expose yourself as directly to sunlight as in winter, it’s enough that you spend just a little bit of time outside which we often naturally do in summer
2. Try to Go to Bed on Time
Regular sleep and wake routine is very important in order to to fix a disrupted circadian rhythm. So if you want to have a good circadian rhythm you need to be disciplined with your bed time and not stay up too late. And if it’s difficult for you to fall asleep at night try waking up earlier, even if it is hard in the beginning. With time you will get used to it and it will come naturally to you
3. Avoid Bright Light Before Going to Bed
As mentioned above bright light signals to your brain to be awake. Your TV and computer screen also emit light that affects your sleep. So avoid using your computer, phone or TV a few hours before going to bed. And if you decide to use them try to set the brightness to a lower level.
4. Be Active During the Day
Daytime physical activity and exercise can have a significant effect on your circadian rhythm. Exercise makes it easier for you to fall and stay asleep at night and also reduced anxiety and stress.
5. Don’t Oversleep in Winter
A lot of people feel sleepy and lack energy in winter. One of the reasons why it happens is the lack of sunlight. Lack of sunlight can make people sleepy during the day in winter and throw their circadian rhythms off. That is one of the reasons many people feel less energetic and report lower mood in winter. So if you feel that you feel overly sleepy in winter try to go outside more and expose yourself to sunlight more.
6. Avoid Naps
Naps can really disrupt your sleep\wake cycle. Napping makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night. Naps can affect and change your sleep phases and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. But that isn’t the case with everyone. Some people enjoy daytime naps without them affecting their sleep. But if you are trying to go to bed earlier it’s better to avoid napping.
7. Have Regular Meal Times
The times when you eat and the quantity of food you have also have an impact on your circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. So besides having a regular bed time, pay attention to your meal times as well. Don’t skip your breakfast and don’t eat a lot late at night, especially not before going to bed.
8. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol have a great ability to disrupt your sleep. And when your sleep gets disrupted, you get disrupted circadian rhythm as well. Avoid too much caffeine, or any other stimulants, It is best to stop consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Indulging in alcohol can also have an effect on your sleep as well, by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.