We are in an era where (almost) everything we know about human anatomy is backed by science.
We know that for our basic survival, food, water and, oxygen are essential (If you wanted to add internet to this list, that’s a red flag!). And so is sleep. The duration of healthy sleep may vary for people but if someone tells you that they can function without sleeping for days, stop listening to them at once!
One of the hottest topics in the past years has been circadian rhythm, and there are even diets planned around it. Since we are in the business of Healthy Sleep, we are breaking down the term for you: what does it mean, how do you figure out your rhythm, and what happens if you don’t care about it for long?
Defining Circadian Rhythm
Simply put, circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour internal clock that includes physiological and behavioural rhythms. The rhythm is regulated by small nuclei in the middle of the brain, called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). The SCN has allotted time slots for different bodily functions – right from digestion to activating growth cells. The most impactful routine however is the sleep-wake routine. And this is why you hear this term most associated with sleep-related matters, including insomnia and jet lags.
Effects of Circadian Rhythm
In addition to sleep, the circadian rhythm is known to affect other functions like metabolism, and regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol, and it also influences mental health. Needless to say, for a healthy life, your circadian rhythm shouldn’t be disrupted often.
This is why healthy sleep is paramount for you. An unhealthy sleep pattern can cause a disrupted circadian rhythm which could result in memory loss, fatigue, delayed healing, and even an imbalanced hormone cycle.
Identifying your Circadian Rhythm
Which brings us to the next question: how do I identify my rhythm and what factors can affect it?
Ever wondered why we humans don’t have enhanced night vision like other nocturnal animals? Or why don’t we hibernate for months during colder months (even though we wish we could!)?
A big factor is light. The human body is wired to sleep when it is dark and wake up with light around. However, this differs from person to person. There are many who feel very active during the early hours of the day and then there are the night owls who find their brains most active at night time. This rhythm isn’t set in stone and can change with age and some discipline.
Here are some things that may seem small, but can significantly upset your rhythm:
- Erratic sleep hours. In an ideal world, you should be sleeping and waking up in the same time window, whether it is a Monday or a Saturday.
- Traveling through different time zones. Jet lag is a common side effect of traveling long distances because your body clock doesn’t change its time zones with your watch. It takes a few days to reset to the new time, but till then jet lag can feel irritating.
- Artificial light. Since the brain is wired to sleep without light, even the smallest rays can signal your brain to stay up. This is why it is best to keep all devices away and soften the night lights at least an hour before you sleep.
- Night shifts. There are countless pieces of research that show that night shift workers can develop long-term diseases because of a disrupted sleep cycle.
So, how do you identify YOUR rhythm?
Sleep specialists suggest to ditch your alarm for a week and observe when you naturally sleep and wake up. If you wake up feeling well-rested, were able to sleep within 5-15 minutes of coming to bed, and didn’t feel restless during the night then bravo! You are aligned with your circadian rhythm. You can also take a chronotype quiz here to learn about your type of rhythm. Do keep in mind that just like your personality, your circadian rhythm is also unique so don’t compare your sleep cycle with others.
Tips to align with your Circadian rhythm
With the ever-changing lifestyles, it can get difficult to follow a set-in-stone routine. So here are a few things you can do to ensure that you don’t deviate too much from your rhythm.
- Avoid substances like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine at night
- Include some physical activity during the day; even a 15-minute brisk walk works
- Turn on more lights inside your home during the day. Conversely, turning the lights low or off at night can enhance sleepiness
- Power down your screens well before bedtime
- Try engaging in an activity such as reading a book or meditating
Note: If you are continuously facing sleep-related issues, it is advisable to consult a somnologist or your family physician.