We all know sleep is paramount to our health. But for most of us, it can be difficult to consistently achieve a good night’s rest. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep or feeling tired during the day, consider paying attention to your circadian rhythm.
Also known as your “body clock,” your circadian rhythm is a 24 hour internal cycle that sends signals to your body about when to sleep and when to wake. It’s affected by certain environmental cues. Understanding what these environmental cues are and how to regulate them can help you gain some control over your sleep.
Get in Sync with the Sun
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the biggest impact you can have on your circadian rhythm is increasing darkness at night and getting light exposure during the day. As the sun sets and darkness settles in, our bodies are programmed to start producing melatonin, the hormone responsible for making us drowsy. By dimming the lights an hour or two before bed, you can let your body know it’s time for sleep.
Equally important is keeping your bedroom dark throughout the night. Any light can be disruptive so consider installing blackout curtains and removing the alarm clock.
When you wake up, try to get as much exposure to natural light as possible. Throw open the curtains or step outside for five minutes. Besides getting your daily dose of Vitamin D, seeing and feeling the sunlight will suppress melatonin so you feel awake and energized.
Turn Off Your Phone
Although any and all light at night affects your sleep quality, blue light can be particularly disruptive. In a Harvard study that reviewed the effects of exposure to blue light versus green light, researchers found that blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as green light. The blue light also delayed circadian rhythms.
To best prepare your body for sleep, avoid looking at bright screens a couple of hours before bed. If that’s difficult to do, try wearing a pair of blue light blocking glasses in the evening.
Watch What You Eat And When You Eat
Most of us know that caffeine in the evening can keep us awake at night, but what time you eat also plays a role in regulating your circadian rhythm. If you eat your meals earlier in the day, you can bump up your internal clock so you get drowsy earlier. In addition, it’s important to create a consistent meal schedule throughout the day so your body can fall into a routine.
The quickest way to reset your circadian rhythm is to head outside for the weekend. Scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder took groups of volunteers camping. The only light they had was natural sunlight and the glow of a campfire. After a week, campers fell asleep two-and-a-half hours earlier than in their modern day routines while maintaining a similar wake time. As a result, they clocked more hours each night.
Next time you find yourself struggling with sleep, consider these tips. That said, the most important takeaway is to get back in touch with nature. Falling asleep with the stars and waking up with the sun is natural and when we can stick to that, we’ll start reaping the benefits through better, more restful slumbers.