You rarely think about it, but every second of every day your body functions according to its own unique timetable or body clock. At certain moments your hormones will fire, your energy levels may surge or plummet, hunger can kick in or subside, and your body could either wake up or close up shop for the day.
All of this happens thanks to your circadian rhythm, which is carefully set by your internal ‘body clock’, a small group of nerve cells, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), found in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus that is responsible for the synchronization of these body's essential processes
Most cells have their own little clock that ticks away, but without the ‘master clock’ on track, they can lose synchronicity and potentially cause knock-on health effects.
Changes in circadian rhythm
Circadian rhythms vary from person to person, meaning that those who claim to be night owls and like to sleep in, aren’t just lazy, but may actually be subject to a different circadian rhythm than those who rise early. These differences are referred to as chronotypes.
No matter what your chronotype, however, everyone is susceptible to his or her natural rhythm being thrown off. Think night shift work, traveling between time zones, going out late on weekends, or staying up all night with an upset baby.
Resetting your circadian rhythm
If your rhythm has been disturbed, you can help get it back on track with some lifestyle changes.
Know your chronotype
Matching your daily activity to your chronotype can help you to get the most out of your day. If you’re naturally a night owl, your circadian rhythm shifts toward more wakefulness and productivity at night. Morning people generally have better productivity in the morning when they feel more awake.
Pay attention to lighting
Light plays a key role in controlling your circadian rhythm. In the morning, with exposure to light, the SCN receives feedback from your eyes and sends signals to raise body temperature and produce hormones like cortisol to help wake you up.
Try to get plenty of natural light within two hours of waking and keep yourself exposed to bright lights or natural light throughout the day. At night, decrease the amount of light you expose yourself to so your body can naturally release the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep.
Most importantly, avoid nighttime exposure to blue light from screens. Phones, computers, and televisions all emit blue light, which promotes wakefulness.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Your sleeping habits are critical for maintaining your circadian rhythm. To help reset your internal clock, aim to get the same amount of sleep every night. Here are some tips to encourage good sleep habits:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This is the very best way to reset your clock, even if you did not sleep well the night before.
- Create a routine to relax before bed, for example, take a warm bath or read a book.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, cool, and tech-free.
- Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or exercise earlier in the day.
- Limit caffeine close to bedtime and avoid heavy, rich or fatty foods right before sleep.
- Try not to stress about being unable to sleep. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
Reach for a tried and tested sleep aid
If you have trouble falling and staying asleep, and your health professional has ruled out any underlying medical conditions for sleeplessness, a herbal supplement could help, such as ReDormin Forte.