Understanding your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) is the first step to incredible sleep.
Your circadian rhythm (also known as your sleep/wake cycle or body clock) is a natural, internal system that’s designed to regulate feelings of sleepiness, wakefulness and eating patterns over a 24-hour period. This timekeeper is controlled by an area of the brain that responds to light and temperature, which is why humans are most alert while the sun is shining and are ready to sleep when it’s dark outside.
When you go camping, after the sun sets and the cicadas are singing, your body immediately begins giving signals to sleep, such as yawning and tiredness. You snuggle into your sleeping bag and go to sleep at around 8 pm since it’s pitch black outside and it seems like the right thing to do. What’s important to note is that you are probably not awake until 2 am checking your emails or watching House of Cards on your tablet.
I understand that we live in a time where it’s impossible to escape technology completely, but an understanding of the factors that affect your internal body clock is crucial in making improvements to your sleep, hormones and many other things. A growing body of research is examining the adverse health effects a disrupted circadian rhythm can have, such as increased chance of cardiovascular events, weight gain, obesity and a correlation with neurological problems such as depression and bipolar disorder.
Here are 4 practical ways to synchronise your circadian rhythm and improve your health dramatically.
1. Use temperature to your advantage
Starting the day with a cold shower is a great way to give your body a natural dose of energy for the day. The deep breathing in response to our body’s shock helps us keep warm, as it increases our overall oxygen intake. Thus, our heart rate will also increase, releasing a rush of blood through our entire body. You can get into this habit by finishing off your warm morning shower with a 30-second blast of cold water. Conversely, a warm shower before you go to bed will put the body in a relaxed state and help ease you to sleep. A relatively cool room temperature of 15-20 degrees Celsius will provide you with optimal conditions for deep sleep.
2. Get some morning rays
Exposure to the sun (or indoor light) first thing in the morning will reset your circadian rhythm by signaling the brain to stop producing the sleep hormone, melatonin. Take a quick outdoor stroll in the morning to hit the ‘sync’ button on your body clock, or if you don’t have time, raise the blinds and switch on your brightest lights instead. The sooner upon waking you can expose your body to light, the better off your following night’s sleep will be.
3. Minimise exposure to lights in the PM
Exposure to bright lights in evening hours can throw your body clock off by confusing the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Technology is the biggest culprit; the artificial blue light emitted from phones, televisions and computer screens prevents the production of melatonin, causing the body to feel wide awake, even when in dire need of sleep. Ideally, you want to dim your lights and power down tech devices two to three hours before bedtime to allow your brain to properly signal the body to sleep. That being said, even one hour of being tech-free before bed will make a noticeable difference to most peoples’ sleep.
4. Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule
A regular bedtime as well as waking up at the same time daily will help keep your circadian rhythm in check. It may be tempting to grab some extra shut-eye on weekends, but doing so can throw off your body clock during the week. My preferred strategy is to wake up at the same time every single day, regardless of the time I went to sleep the night before. This motivates me to be in bed at a responsible time and also synchronises my circadian rhythm every morning.
At Real Fitness Training, we take into consideration the big picture when transforming our clients’ lives – sleep, stress, movement, nutrition with a huge emphasis on educating our clients with science-based proven methods to create change one habit at a time. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we do things, get in touch with us for a Success Session where you can get a clear idea of what the RFT philosophy entails and whether it resonates with you.
We look forward to hearing from you!