Do you get 8 hours of sleep a night, yet find yourself in a daily uphill battle against fatigue? Or, maybe you wake up to an intense bout of “brain fog”– that 30 or 40 minute window during which your body’s awake, but your brain seems like it hasn’t quite gotten the memo? Or, perhaps you don’t feel the need for Zzzzz’s until the wee hours of the night?
If you relate to any of the above scenarios, you may be experiencing a disrupted circadian rhythm.
Our sleeping patterns –along with many other biological processes such as hormone production, cell regeneration, brain wave activity, and body temperature– are governed by a roughly 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. Although innate in plants and animals, circadian rhythms take cues from nature, particularly sunlight.
Unfortunately, many of our daily sleep habits (often referred to as “sleep hygiene”) serve to disrupt this important natural rhythm, resulting in various sleep disorders. Such sleep disorders include insomnia and delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). Abnormal circadian rhythms have also been associated with depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Concerned? Check out this detailed online test designed to assist whether you have an abnormal circadian rhythm. Results of the test will be e-mailed to you.
Fear not, there are simple steps that you can take (as early as tonight!) to start the process of re-setting your circadian rhythm to ensure more refreshing, deep sleep. Check them out below:
1. Maintain a consistent bedtime as close to 10pm as possible. As mentioned earlier, circadian rhythms are influenced by daylight/darkness. Secretion of Melatonin, a hormone that helps maintain the circadian rhythm concerning the sleep-wakefulness cycle, is tied to the natural cycles of light and dark. Melatonin levels are lowest during daylight hours and begin to increase beginning around 9pm.
2. Increase exposure to AM sunlight. Throw open those curtains and/or sit outside far a few minutes in the morning to tell your body that now’s the time to wake up. Added Bonus: sitting in the sunlight stimulates production of Vitamin D (a vitamin most of us in the West are extremely deficient in!)
3. Unplug at least 2 hours before your bed. Watching TV or using the computer before bedtime can result in over-stimulation that can negatively impact the body’s ability to sleep. Additionally, the artificial light from the television and/or computer also affects the light-sensitive circadian rhythms. Therefore, turn off the computer or television a few hours before bedtime and dim surrounding lights to signal to the body that bed-time is approaching.
4. Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Journaling, visualization techniques, yoga, deep breathing and other practices can help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.