- Circadian Rhythm's Vital Role: The circadian rhythm is a crucial internal clock that regulates sleep, metabolism, and overall health. Disruptions due to stress, irregular schedules, or travel can lead to health issues.
- Resetting for Well-Being: Resetting your circadian rhythm can enhance sleep quality, energy levels, emotional balance, and metabolism, promoting better overall health.
- Light Exposure Matters: Light, especially in the morning, is pivotal in syncing your internal clock with the environment. It can advance sleep-wake cycles and aid in circadian rhythm adjustment.
- Consistency and Gradual Changes: Maintaining consistent sleep schedules and gradually adjusting to factors like bedtime, meal timing, and technology usage are key to effectively resetting your circadian rhythm.
- Leveraging Technology and Self-Care: Utilizing wearable devices and implementing practices like exercise, optimal sleep environment, and reduced smartphone usage can help you successfully reset your circadian rhythm, improving your well-being.
Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can be challenging in the hustle and bustle of daily life. This is where understanding how to reset your circadian rhythm can be a game-changer.
Your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, regulates sleep patterns, hormone and immune function, metabolism, and overall physical and mental health. Disruptions to this rhythm due to factors like stress, irregular work hours, or travel can lead to various health issues, including chronic fatigue, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that you can effectively reset your circadian rhythm with some simple lifestyle changes and habits. Resetting your circadian rhythm can improve sleep, promote physical vigor and mental sharpness, enhance emotional balance, and improve metabolism.
This guide will provide science-backed tips on how to reset your circadian rhythm for better sleep and improved health outcomes. Let's dive deeper into this fascinating subject!
Understand Your Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is our body's internal clock that operates on a roughly 24-hour cycle. It regulates various physiological processes, from sleep-wake cycles and hormone secretion to cell regeneration and metabolism.
Our circadian rhythm ensures that our bodies function harmoniously with the day-night cycle, optimizing physiological processes based on the time of day. This internal timekeeping system dictates when we feel sleepy and awake.
A balanced circadian rhythm naturally aligns with daylight hours, keeping you energetic and alert during the day and restful throughout the night. However, factors such as lifestyle habits, age differences, shift work, or travel can disrupt this pattern, causing circadian rhythm disorders.
Influence of Light Exposure on Circadian Cycle
Our circadian rhythm doesn't operate in isolation. It's synchronized, or "entrained" to the external environment, primarily through light exposure.
Specialized cells in our eyes, called melanopsin retinal ganglion cells, are sensitive to blue light and send signals directly to the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN, often dubbed the "circadian pacemaker," uses this information to align our internal processes with the day-night cycle. This synchronization ensures that we feel alert during the day and sleepy at night, matching our biology to our environment.
This connection between our internal clocks and external cues like sunlight explains why some people struggle to adjust their sleep schedule after jet-setting across different time zones or working night shifts. We commonly refer to this as 'jet lag' or 'shift work disorder.' The misalignment between our internal clocks and the sun causes a disruption within the sleep-wake cycle timing.
Circadian Disruptions & Health Concerns
An irregularity in one's daily rhythmic patterns has been linked with numerous health issues ranging from heart disease and obesity to depression. It even increases cancer risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The following are a few of the primary drivers for circadian rhythm disruption.
This phenomenon occurs when our sleep schedule is inconsistent. Social commitments, like late-night parties or early-morning meetings, which conflict with our natural sleep-wake cycle, may drive inconsistent sleep schedules. Over time, this can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, mood disturbances, and a weakened immune system.
People working night shifts or rotating shifts often experience a misalignment between their work schedule and their internal clock. This misalignment can lead to sleep disorders, metabolic issues, and even an increased risk of certain cancers.
Rapid travel across time zones can cause our internal clock to be out of sync with local time, leading to jet lag. Symptoms include fatigue, digestive problems, and difficulty concentrating.
Track Your Sleep Patterns
Your circadian rhythm, your internal body clock, governs the sleep-wake cycle that dictates when you feel sleepy and awake. Any disruptions to this natural circadian rhythm can lead to disorders such as irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder or advanced sleep-wake phase disorder. Keep reading to see how you can optimize your circadian rhythm, resulting in more energy during the day and better sleep at night.
Monitor Your Sleep Patterns
To effectively reset your circadian rhythms, it's crucial first to understand your current sleep patterns. There are three factors to monitor that impact your circadian rhythm and sleep quality:
Examine how consistent your bedtime and wake-up time is across the week.
I always get this question: “Is there a difference between going to bed at 1 am and waking up at 9 am versus going to bed at 10 pm and waking up at 6 am?”
The answer is yes.
A recent study conducted by researchers at MIT and Harvard found that people who go to bed earlier and wake up earlier have a 23% lower risk of depression, suggesting shifting to an earlier sleep schedule may reduce depression risk. Why is this?
Finally, duration does matter. The average adult should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Consistently sleeping less than 7 or more than 9 hours each night significantly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.
Leverage Wearable Devices for Tracking Sleep
A practical approach to tracking sleeping habits involves using wearable devices specifically designed for this purpose. These tools monitor various aspects, including duration and timing.
AIM7 analyzes duration, onset, and timing to give our members precise recommendations for maintaining a consistent circadian rhythm and improving physical and mental health outcomes.
7 Ways to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Morning & Evening Light Viewing
Light is the primary external cue (or "zeitgeber") that synchronizes the circadian clock to the external environment, and it’s the primary tool you can use to reset your circadian rhythm.
• Morning light: Exposure to natural sunlight in the morning can help advance (shift earlier) your circadian rhythm. In addition, as described earlier, when photoreceptors in the eye detect light, they send a signal to the SCN, increasing cortisol and body temperature. These two biological signals increase your energy and alertness while also boosting your mood.
One of the most direct effects of light on the circadian system is its influence on melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, and its secretion increases in the absence of light (i.e., at night).
• Evening light: Exposure to light, especially blue light, suppresses melatonin production, signaling to the body that it's daytime and promoting wakefulness. Therefore, reducing exposure to bright lights or artificial lights, especially overhead lights in your home, in the evening can help prepare your body for sleep. Using dim, warm-colored lights in the evening can further support a natural transition to sleep.
Daytime Light Importance
Consistent light exposure during the day, preferably natural sunlight, reinforces the body's sleep-wake cycle and supports mental alertness and melatonin production. Even on cloudy days, natural light provides beneficial cues to our circadian system.
Caffeine is notorious for its ability to keep us alert by blocking adenosine receptors within our brains. It has an average half-life of 5-6 hours, meaning that if you consume it later than mid-afternoon, there's a good chance it will still affect your sleepiness when bedtime comes around.
This lingering effect could result in trouble falling asleep or cause disruptions to your natural sleep patterns, which are key components of your body's internal timekeeping system. Monitoring these changes with wearable devices can provide insights into how caffeine affects individual sleep-wake cycles.
Research indicates up to 30% of US adults drink alcohol to help them fall asleep. Sadly, while alcohol might help induce initial drowsiness due to its sedative properties, this does not equate to quality restful slumber. Moreover, it fractures sleep and inhibits the restorative nature of sleep.
• Sleep disruption: The presence of alcohol in one's system interrupts normal sleep phases like REM, which is critical for cognitive functions, including learning and memory consolidation. This results in fragmented irregularities in someone's sleep cycle, falling outside the norm and potentially causing misalignment of biological clocks.
• Poor sleep quality: Despite alcohol possibly initiating sleep faster, the onset of alcohol consumption harms the overall sleep pattern. Frequent waking episodes and a lower perceived sleep quality mark alcohol-induced sleep.
While alcohol might make you feel drowsy, it can disrupt the quality of your sleep, preventing you from entering the deeper, restorative stages of sleep. It's best to consume alcohol in moderation and not right before bed.
Regular exercise not only acts to regulate your circadian rhythm, but it can also improve sleep quality. Aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week and two total body strengthening sessions. However, avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime as it can be stimulating.
Morning or afternoon workouts are ideal for most people.
In addition, exercise is a potent regulator of the circadian rhythm, including skeletal muscle clock-controlled genes. And here’s some excellent news for all the new parents: through exercise, we can adjust our body's natural circadian rhythm, which can help counteract the adverse effects of irregular sleep habits.
Meal times can influence your circadian rhythm. Avoid large meals close to bedtime, and consider a light, healthy snack if you're hungry. Some research suggests that eating in alignment with your circadian rhythm may benefit metabolic regulation.
Adjust Your Bedtime
To realign your circadian rhythm, consider making subtle changes to your bedtime. This process involves slight adjustments rather than a sudden shift in sleep schedule.
• Maintaining Consistency is Key: A regular bedtime is essential in keeping the natural circadian rhythm intact. It's advisable to adhere to similar sleeping and waking hours every day - even on weekends. Such consistency aids in regulating our internal body clocks and can make falling asleep and waking up less challenging.
If you're experiencing difficulty with falling asleep at night, try pushing back your sleep time by 15-minute increments until you find that sweet spot where drowsiness kicks in shortly after getting into bed. If you're struggling with excessive daytime fatigue, try going to bed a bit earlier.
The Role of Your Sleep Environment
Your surroundings significantly impact the ease at which you fall and stay asleep. A conducive environment for optimal sleep would be cold, dark, quiet, and comfortable.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your bedroom anywhere between 60 - 67 degrees. However, according to a recent paper, older adults may benefit from keeping their room temperature between 68 - 77 degrees.
I like it cold, but it’s your choice!
To signal that it's time for bed and to help manage advanced sleep-wake phase disorder, which occurs when someone's sleep-wake cycle falls out of sync with their person's internal timekeeping system, incorporating pre-bed rituals such as reading or taking warm baths could also prove beneficial.
To recap, great sleep hygiene practices include:
- A Wind-down routine
- A dark room
- Cool and comfortable temperature
- Quiet environment
Push Back on Night Owl Tendencies
There are a lot of people who think they are night owls, but their behaviors are really keeping them up at night, not their genetic chronotype. Phones and streaming content provide an immediate source of entertainment and are a driver for plummeting sleep durations.
A recent collaboration between Apple and the American Heart Association analyzed over 2.9 million nights of sleep across 42,455 participants and found that the average person slept only 6 hours and 27 minutes each night, with only 31.2% of participants meeting the minimum standard of 7 hours per night.
And this is with people who track their sleep and are trying to sleep more!
One of the drivers for reduced sleep duration is social media and streaming content on smartphones. In addition to the blue light emitted from smartphones, which decreases melatonin levels, entertaining social media content is emotionally stimulating, which makes it difficult to fall asleep.
To combat the temptation of your smartphone, limit your screen time an hour before bedtime, then place your device across the room when you lay in your bed to prevent the temptation to doom-scroll. If you need to be up for work purposes, consider using blue light blockers to limit the impact of evening light exposure.
Automating Your Circadian Reset
Resetting your circadian rhythm doesn’t need to be a chore.
The AIM7 morning routine masterfully intertwines 3-5 minutes of morning sunlight exposure to regulate your circadian rhythm, harmonizing your body's natural clock for optimized health and wellbeing. Then AIM7 amplifies this experience with our guided mindfulness journeys, seamlessly incorporated into your morning routine to empower your day with calmness and focus. AIM7 – Reshape your morning, reinvent your day
Resetting your circadian rhythm is essential for improving sleep quality, health, and well-being. You can realign your internal clock by understanding your current sleep patterns and making gradual changes.
Start by leveraging AIM7’s sleep recommendations to leverage the data from your wearable to improve your sleep onset, duration, and consistency. Then, focus on consistent sunlight exposure throughout the day.
Then, by slowly adjusting your caffeine and alcohol intake, exercise routine, and food intake, you can slowly reset your circadian rhythm and unlock a new level of thriving.