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8 ways to improve your circadian rhythm for better sleep

8 ways to improve your circadian rhythm for better sleep

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Your circadian rhythm – also known as your body's internal clock – is responsible for how awake or tired you feel at certain times of the day.  We feel most awake during the day and need the most 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 is important that we maintain consistent waking and sleeping times.  Unfortunately, our sleep rhythms can easily be thrown off balance by things like staying up late, using electronic devices late, shift work, stress, illness and jet lag.  

Fortunately, there are simple strategies you can use to keep your body clock on track.  If you have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep through the night, suffer from exhaustion, fatigue or lethargy, or feel excessively tired during the day, here's what you should know and implement to regulate your circadian rhythm:

  1. Enjoy sunrise and sunset.  The more time we spend outdoors,Screen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.25.03 PM the more our circadian rhythm synchronizes with the sun.  These days, however, we spend a lot of time indoors.  Make it a priority to go outside 30 minutes before or after sunrise and/or sunset. Even five minutes is enough to signal the hypothalamus that it's time to wake up or shut down!  However, keep in mind that your eyes should be directly exposed to the light (no sunglasses!).
  2. Get out in the fresh air. The more natural light we exposeScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.27.39 PM ourselves to, the better and more energized we feel.  If you can't take a midday walk, move your desk closer to a window.  Sunshine is preferable (hello, vitamin D!), but even a cloudy day is better than artificial light.
  3. Set fixed meal times. Our bodies thrive on routine. AndScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.29.38 PM digestion consumes a lot of energy.  So by regulating our meal times, we can signal to our bodies what's coming up next.  When trying to regulate your circadian rhythm, stick to a loose meal schedule (try to eat within the same two-hour window).
  4. Skip the nap. Although napping has been shown to reduceScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.33.13 PM stress and increase productivity while restoring circadian rhythms, it's a good idea to skip the afternoon nap. It can put a crimp in your day.
  5. Limit screen use in the evening. Computers, phones and tablets - they can all have a negativeScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.35.04 PM impact on our sleep, unfortunately.  The blue light emitted by the screen signals to our hypothalamus that it's time to be awake.  Instead, try reading a book in bed to wind down. 
  6. Embrace sleep in the rhythm of the sun. When trying toScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.40.52 PM restore your circadian rhythm, it's important to listen to your body.  If the sun has already set and you feel tired (even if it's only 7:30 p.m.), you should give your body what it's asking for - at least for the next little while. If you stay up too late, you might get a second wind and never seem to get any rest.
  7. Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary for sleep. Remove allScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.42.30 PM electronic devices, cover LED lights, provide good air circulation, sleep with an eye mask, and try white noise - these are all helpful tips for creating a zen sleep zone.
  8. Establish a bedtime routine. Even as adults, it's important toScreen Shot 2022-08-10 at 4.43.27 PM signal to our bodies that it's time to rest.  No matter how short and sweet it is, make sure your bedtime routine includes turning off all screens!

Implementing some or all of the simple strategies we’ve outlined should help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep, energy and overall mood. If you continue to experience problems with fatigue, exhaustion or excessive daytime tiredness despite trying these tips, it might be worth discussing with your doctor. Thanks for reading!

Leena Mahtani

Leena Mahtani

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