What is your circadian rhythm and how can you support it?
-Jun 3, Hannah Hargrave, Health -
You might feel like your alarm clock rules your life but there’s another tick-tock that you should be paying much closer attention to…your circadian clock.
Your circadian clock – it’s not something you put on your wall, your wrist or on your bedside table but it instead exists within your very body, and most people don’t realise how important it is.
What is your circadian clock?
You may know it better as your ‘body clock’. It’s the 24-hour cycle within you that tells you when to eat, sleep, wake up and more. The clocks are most influenced by exposure to light – electric or sunlight – but our genes play a big role in how they work too.
This explains why some people need more sleep than others and why sleep inducing supplements such as melatonin affect users differently.
Why is your circadian clock so important?
Circadian clocks don’t just tell you when to go to bed and when to wake up. Your organs, such as heart, liver and brain have cellular clocks too. These regulate when the organs function throughout the day.
When they lose their circadian rhythm – such as when you have jet lag or work night shifts – they can no longer function efficiently. Over a long period of time this can cause health problems too.
How to make sure your circadian clock is working at its best
There are several ways you can ensure you keep your body clock in sync and make it adjust quickly if it’s rhythm is put out:
– Turn Electronic Devices Off
“We may love our electronic devices, but they aren’t doing our circadian rhythms much good,” says Professor Mark Lorch of the University of Hull. “In the hour or two before bedtime your body starts to release the sleep inducing hormone melatonin. Blue light is known to reduce the amount of melatonin your body produces. The problem is our flat screen devices produce plenty of that blue light. So staring at a laptop, tablet or phone before bed lowers your melatonin levels, making it much more difficult to drift off to sleep.”
– Expose Yourself to Daylight
When you wake up in the morning it’s a good idea to get a good dose of daylight. It resets the body clock and keeps it in sync with the outside world. If it’s pitch black when you have to get up, then research has also shown that a stint in front of a light box can have the same effect. Try to get outside and away from your desk in the daytime too. Fresh air and daylight gives you energy and helps your body stay on the right track.
– Dim the Lights
As the night starts to draw in, dim the lights, pull down the blinds and make your sleeping environment as dark as possible and as Professor Lorch says, “turn off your computer or TV!”
– Stick to a Sleep Schedule
Even if you wake up at the ‘right’ time and still feel tired, get out of bed and get on with your day. The same goes for going to sleep. Sticking to a sleep schedule is imperative to getting our body clock on track which is why naps aren’t always a great idea either.
– Watch What You Eat and When
Eating the wrong thing at the wrong time can also reek havoc on your circadian clock. Research conducted at Harvard University found animals’ circadian rhythms moved to match food availability. So if your clock is out of sync they suggest fasting for 16 hours – eat dinner at 4pm and don’t eat again until 8am the next morning.