“Circadian” is a rather new term coined in the 1950s from the Latin circa meaning “about” and dies meaning “day.” The circadian rhythm is a routine, biological process that controls the sleep-wake cycle. It lasts for about 24 hours. The circadian rhythm is often studied within a human context, yet it has also been observed in plants, fungi, other animals, and even bacteria.
Circadian Rhythm in Humans
Though circadian rhythms can be observed in many living things, we’re going to focus on our own, human biological rhythm. Human circadian rhythm is driven by biological clocks present in our tissues and organs. We have a master clock, even, present in our brain that controls all the other biological clocks.
To draw your awareness toward the effects of your inner biological clocks, here are a few relatable effects of a properly functioning circadian rhythm.
Getting to Sleep at a Similar Time Each Evening
If you fall asleep at a similar time each evening, it’s a sign you have a thriving biological clock. Falling asleep easily at night means you have healthy melatonin levels. The hormone melatonin is deeply involved in our biological clocks and dete rmines how sleepy we become once the sun goes down.
Waking Up at a Similar Time Each Morning
Waking up at a similar time each morning without an alarm is another sign your biological clock is healthy. Furthermore, waking up feeling fully rested actually ties into getting to sleep easily at night. This is because proper hormonal balance, especially with melatonin, increases the chance of deep sleep.
It turns out sleep is not only about quantity, but quality as well. With the right quality of sleep, you’re more likely to wake up at a similar time each morning. Having a steady waking cycle ensures you’ll be tired around the same time each evening. Is this beginning to sound rhythmic?
Having Peak Energy During Similar Times Each Day
Having a balanced circadian rhythm will cause your energy to peak at similar times every day. Have you ever noticed that when you begin your work for the day it takes a few hours to feel and begin doing your best? This is because, like most of us, you reach your peak performance level between 1 and 3 pm.
During this peak performance time, there’s an increase in alertness, critical thinking, and overall mental performance. Unfortunately, this energy doesn’t last long. What happens to this energy after lunch-time?
Having an Inevitable Dip in Energy
Having a dip in energy during the mid to late afternoon hours is actually a sign of a properly functioning internal clock. Research is even showing that taking an afternoon nap is beneficial for the brain and maintaining performance levels.
Don’t feel guilty for not performing well during the late afternoon hours. Instead, allow it to be a time of rest and rejuvenation. It will set you up for a productive evening. In turn, evening productivity will lead to a good night’s sleep. Feeling the cycle?
Why We Should Balance Our Circadian Rhythms
Having a weak circadian rhythm is associated with an increased risk of disease. Most notably, research is connecting a poor circadian rhythm with an increased probability of neurodegenerative disease. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are at an all-time high.
There is no better time than now to improve our biological clocks. Other than preventing disease, harnessing the power of the circadian rhythm can increase mood, limit depression, and help us feel energetic and motivated to complete our daily tasks.
So how exactly can we improve the circadian rhythms? Are there steps we can take to strengthen our connection to the 24-hour wake-sleep cycle that inevitably controls us all?
How to Balance the Circadian Rhythm
Luckily, improving your internal clock requires only a few simple activities to add to your routine. Some of these, however, may be difficult. These changes may go against some current habits you hold. Either way, stay tuned for these simple techniques that can be life-changing.
Get plenty of sunlight throughout the day. Studies suggest that getting adequate sunlight during the day will actually set us up for better sleep at night.
Go outside first thing in the morning. Think of excuses to be outside during the day. You can do your exercise outside and take breaks from your work by taking a walk outside.
Getting plenty of sunlight makes sense when you think about it. Our ancestors most likely got plenty of sunlight beginning first thing in the morning. We are hard-wired to receive plenty of sunlight during the day and then darkness at night. This brings us to another important tip.
At night, lower your exposure to light. Melatonin has been coined the hormone of darkness for a very good reason: at night, we produce more of it in the presence of darkness. Melatonin is great for easing sleep disorders and even has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential.
Try to avoid using electronics at night. The light from phones and laptops confuses our internal clocks and can reduce our melatonin production. When you go to sleep, blackout your room as much as possible. Pull the curtains and turn off any and all light.
Exercise during the day. Exercising during the day provides a strong signal for balancing the sleep-wake cycle of humans. This signaling can even strengthen the heart and prevent cardiovascular disease. Here are a few exercise strategies to use for overall benefits.
- Exercise outside. Exercising outside will expose you to more sunlight while reducing stress levels. Stress-reduction is important for vitality and can even offer circadian balance. Running, hiking, and even walking are excellent options for getting moving in the outdoors.
- Try mindfulness-based exercises for stress reduction. Since stress reduction is involved with balancing our internal clocks, completing stress-relieving exercise is beneficial. Try utilizing a yoga practice or martial arts class for your daily exercise needs.
- Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT is especially beneficial because it raises human growth hormone (HGH) levels. An increase in HGH is beneficial for the production of new neurons in the brain. This process is called neurogenesis and leads to stress-reduction and mood-enhancement.
The Time is Now to Balance Your Circadian Rhythm
In a world where chronic illness, stress, and sleep-deprivation thrive, there’s no better time to improve your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle controlled by biological clocks present in our cells. They determine how we feel and think. These internal clocks even control the release of hormones at specific times throughout the day.
By taking the above steps to balance this biological, internal rhythm, you’ll open yourself to a world of more productivity, joy, and balance.