Finding Your Flow & Discovering Your Best Self
If you often find yourself reaching for that third or fourth cup of coffee before the clock hits noon, frequently craving a nice snooze right after lunch, or find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night, then you may have an out of balance circadian rhythm to thank.
Our Circadian Rhythm is defined as “a biological process that most organisms follow through a 24-hour cycle of wakefulness and sleepiness.” The highest levels of action, focus, and productivity require the equal opposite of restfulness, calm, and restoration; the yin and the yang. The human body picks up cues from the earth’s natural light, or lack thereof. During the day, the sun signals to the body that it is time to wake up. During the night, when the sun goes down, the body is signaled to sleep. So, if you find yourself struggling to make it past the afternoons, or unable to fall asleep most nights, then it may be time to take a look at what could be throwing off your circadian rhythm.
The modern world’s impact on our sleep.
In our modern world, potential for sleep disruption lurks everywhere. For thousands of years, the sun was our only source of light, and humans followed a natural day-night cycle. A shift began to occur approximately 150 years ago, when electric lighting was invented. In recent years alone, our exposure to artificial light has increased significantly, with technology being the top culprit in the disruption of our sleep as the average adult spends over 11 hours a day in front of a screen; that’s up from 9 hours and 32 minutes just 4 years ago."However, light and technology have not been the sole influencers when it comes to our circadian rhythms.
Many other factors can also play a role in the quality and quantity of our sleep, such as stress, noise, lighting, stress, illness, medications, and even genetics.
How research is connecting circadian rhythm and disease.
"In recent years, research has revealed that the circadian rhythm does not solely control the sleep-wake cycles in humans, but that it affects us more deeply, down to our cells and organ systems." - NCBI
"In the last few years, research has also provided evidence that points to connections between disrupted circadian rhythms and various clinical disorders. The clinical evidence suggests that if the circadian rhythm has been disrupted in mice or men, metabolic syndrome and obesity, premature aging, diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, immune deficiencies, hypertension and abnormal sleep cycles develop." - NCBI
A 2019 study showed the effects of circadian rhythms disturbances on health. There was an inverse relationship between cognition and sleep deprivation, a direct relationship between risk of cardiovascular injury and sleep deprivation, a direct relationship between poor mental health and sleep deprivation, and a direct relationship between poor neurological health and sleep deprivation.
Quality vs. Quantity
How much sleep do you really need? Well, the answer may not be as black and white as you thought. Aiming to get the right amount of deep sleep is the starting point. You can sleep for a full 8 hours, but that won’t necessarily be enough if you are not getting good quality sleep.
A common guideline we often hear is that we should be sleeping anywhere from 6-8 hours per night, but 6 hours or less may not be doing your internal rhythm any justice. In fact, one research study showed that chronic restriction of sleep to 6 hours or less per night yielded cognitive performance deficits that were equivalent to up to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation.
How you can support your circadian rhythm.
Drugs and supplements can only do so much for our system.
- Put away all devices before bed. Although tempting, especially in a day and age when FOMO is a real thing, scrolling through your Instagram feed or binge watching that new show on Netflix as you’re lying in bed may not be doing you any favors. Dr. Frank Lipman, founder and director of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City and the creator of Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman, says, “tech messes with [your ability to fall asleep] in a couple of ways. One is, if you stay on your gadgets at night, it’s going to be hard for you to slow down your nervous system and relax. But probably more importantly is all the blue light that’s emitted from these devices. It goes into your eyes and affects your body’s perceptions of light and dark, which upsets the rhythm.” - Dr. Franklin Lipman
- Soak up the sun. Exposure to natural light is key to an aligned circadian rhythm. Double board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist Dr. Brandon Peters suggests aiming for 30-45 minutes of direct sunlight exposure into your eyes. No sunglasses or sun visors. Sunscreen is optional, depending on the intensity of the sun, but keep in mind that the sunlight tends to be less intense in the morning, posing less of a risk.
- verywell health
- Stay cool. According to sleep psychologist Dr. Michelle Drerup, “typically it is suggested that the temperature in the bedroom for adults should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. Your body temperature decreases as part of the sleep initiation process, and this range of temperature is thought to actually help facilitate this decrease. It can be useful to think of the bedroom as your “cave” - it should be cool, dark, and quiet to enhance your sleep. If the bedroom becomes uncomfortably hot or cold, you are more likely to wake up, and the comfort level of the bedroom temperature especially impacts the quality of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage in which one dreams.” - cleveland clinic
- When you eat matters. We may not always be quick to connect our health and quality of sleep with what we ate that day, and more importantly when we ate, but recent research is suggesting that there is a relationship between the microbiome and the internal clock. Results from time-restricted feeding (TRF) studies suggest that restricting the time of food access may be protective against weight gain, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia.
One research study took a look at the connection between sleep, metabolism, and circadian rhythms and concluded that the circadian system is tightly tied with processes controlling sleep and metabolism. Disruptions of the internal clock or metabolism can lead to derangement of the other, consequently predisposing to metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Integration of circadian homeostasis with eating patterns and the microbiota. Abbreviation: SCFA, short-chain fatty acids.
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