Circadian Rhythm Hacks For Better Sleep

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Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythms are your body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out physiological functions. One of these functions is sleep, with circadian rhythms regulating your sleep-wake cycle with environmental cues.

Circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep-wake cycle, is the 24-hour cycle that regulates physical, mental, and behavioral changes in most living things, including animals, plants, and microorganisms. This internal clock is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus in the brain.

The SCN is responsible for receiving light signals from the eyes and synchronizing the body’s internal clock with the external environment. Light is the strongest cue that influences the circadian rhythm, but other factors such as food intake, exercise, and social interaction can also play a role.

The primary signal affecting circadian rhythms is the earth’s cycle of darkness, with tiredness kicking in when light levels drop. However, diet, stress, depression, and your schedule can also impact your sleep-wake cycle.

  • Sleep-wake cycle: The circadian rhythm drives the feeling of sleepiness and alertness throughout the day. Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, plays a key role in regulating sleepiness. Melatonin levels rise in the evening and help to promote sleep.
  • Hormone release: The release of many hormones, such as cortisol, growth hormone, and thyroid hormone, is regulated by the circadian rhythm. These hormones have important effects on metabolism, growth, and development.
  • Body temperature: Body temperature naturally rises in the morning and falls in the evening. This rhythm helps to regulate sleep and wakefulness.
  • Digestion: The digestive system also follows a circadian rhythm. The stomach and intestines are more active during the day and less active at night.
  • Cell repair and regeneration: Many cellular processes, such as DNA repair and cell division, are also regulated by the circadian rhythm.

Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is important for overall health and well-being. When our circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to a variety of health problems, including:

  • Sleep problems: Insomnia, sleep apnea, and excessive daytime sleepiness are all common symptoms of a disrupted circadian rhythm.
  • Mood disorders: Disrupted circadian rhythms can also contribute to depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
  • Digestive problems: Gastrointestinal problems, such as heartburn, indigestion, and constipation, are more common when the circadian rhythm is disrupted.
  • Metabolic problems: Disrupted circadian rhythms may increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Here are some of the important functions regulated by the circadian rhythm:

If you struggle to sleep, hacking your circadian rhythms with lifestyle changes could significantly improve your sleep quality.

This article explores the best circadian rhythm hacks for better sleep.

Create a sleep schedule

Welcome to the Bedstar sleep talk blog.

Firstly, it’s crucial to have a sleep schedule. A sleep schedule is a set time you go to bed and wake up. The idea is that consistently sticking to a sleep schedule aligns your body clock and fixes your sleep-wake cycle.

To create a sleep schedule, just do the following:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night (with lights off).
  • Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

You might not fall asleep at a reasonable time the first week, but over time you will fall asleep earlier and get more hours in.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with sleep.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Establish a relaxing routine before bed, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to calming music.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool: A dark, quiet, and cool bedroom environment will promote better sleep.
hormones and sleep. Circadian Rhythm
Pictured: Illustrative representation of sleep schedules of night and day. Circadian rhythms are your body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out physiological functions.

Limit blue light exposure

Blue light suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, tricking your brain into thinking it isn’t night-time. This wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythms, triggering bouts of wakefulness whenever you stare at a screen.

Most smartphones, tablets, and monitors have a night mode you can switch on to reduce blue light, and you can set your TV to a warm colour mode. However, you should eliminate all screen time an hour before bed for the best results.

Dim the lights an hour before bed

It isn’t just blue light that can interrupt your sleep-wake cycle – bright artificial light does as well in precisely the same way. We recommend installing dimmer switches on all lights and using table and floor-standing lamps to keep light levels low.

It’s also a good idea to use warm (yellow) light bulbs instead of cool (white) light because white light contains more blue light.

Soak up rays in the morning

Studies show that soaking up the sun’s rays in the morning can help regulate the body’s light/dark cycle. Light is the primary trigger for our circadian rhythms, so you should embrace it and catch ten minutes whenever it’s sunny.

Young couple running in the park on a sunny day. Reset circadian rhythm by exercising more during daylight hours.
Young couple running in the park on a sunny day.

Starting your day with the sun and ending it in darkness is the most natural way to hack your sleep-wake cycle. Why not give it a go?

Get regular exposure to sunlight: Sunlight is the most important cue for regulating the circadian rhythm. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight exposure each day.

Take Vitamin B12

Healthy lifestyle.
Pictured: Close-up portrait of a happy cute beautiful young woman while she tries tasty vegan salad in the kitchen at home.

Clinical and scientific research has linked low melatonin levels to increasing insomnia frequency. Vitamin B12 is necessary to produce melatonin, and this study reveals Vitamin B12 treatment directly influences melatonin.

The bottom line – insomnia can be caused by a B12 deficiency, and you can take supplements to overcome it. This is great for your circadian rhythm because it ensures you have a ready supply of melatonin, the sleep hormone. 

Boost Vitamin D

Despite the moniker “vitamin”, Vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all – it’s a hormone. It has a critical circadian role, and that is that it activates serotonin synthesis, the happy hormone which is a precursor to melatonin.

Drinking tart cherry juice increases melatonin.
Pictured: Cherry juice, there is evidence to show that drinking tart cherry juice increases melatonin.

You can get vitamin D from oily fish, red meats, egg yolks, and fortified foods, but the sun is the best source (if you can catch some). This study concludes that low levels of Vitamin D significantly increase the risk of sleep disorders.

Follow the circadian rhythm diet

The circadian rhythm diet, also known as circadian rhythm fasting, is a type of time-restricted eating (TRE) that focuses on aligning your eating schedule with your natural sleep-wake cycle. This means consuming all your daily calories within a specific window of time, typically during the daytime when you’re most active and your metabolism is naturally higher.

Here’s how it works:

  • Eating window: You choose a specific timeframe, usually between 6-12 hours, during which you can eat your meals and snacks. A popular option is the 12-hour window, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
  • Fasting window: The remaining hours of the day (typically 12-18 hours) are dedicated to fasting, which allows your body to rest and repair itself. During this time, you can only consume water, unsweetened coffee or tea, and other calorie-free beverages.

Benefits:

While research on the circadian rhythm diet is ongoing, some potential benefits include:

  • Improved weight management: Studies suggest that TRE, including the circadian rhythm diet, may promote weight loss by regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which influence hunger and satiety.
  • Enhanced metabolic health: Aligning your eating with your circadian rhythm may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, potentially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Better sleep quality: By avoiding late-night meals, the circadian rhythm diet may contribute to improved sleep quality by allowing your body to focus on rest and digestion during the night.

Things to consider:

  • Individualised approach: The ideal eating window may vary depending on your sleep schedule and preferences. It’s important to find a timeframe that works best for you and consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet.
  • Gradual implementation: Transitioning to the circadian rhythm diet gradually is recommended to allow your body to adjust to the new eating pattern.
  • Nutritional adequacy: Ensure you consume a balanced and nutritious diet within your eating window to meet your daily nutrient requirements.

It’s important to note that the circadian rhythm diet may not be suitable for everyone, especially individuals with certain health conditions or pregnant and breastfeeding women. Consulting a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting this or any other dietary approach is crucial.

Studies show that circadian rhythms, metabolism, and nutrition are intimately linked, with meal timing helping regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

If you enjoyed this article, read our 10 sleep tips.  

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