It's September. It's starting to get darker earlier. But even if I wasn't able to see the world around me, my body would let me know.
I'm getting tired earlier.
Most of the time when people hear about circadian rhythm they think about sleep. And they wouldn't be wrong. Circadian rhythms are processes that the body undergoes during a (roughly) 24 hour period. These processes run continuously in the background of our bodies, and are guided by environmental cues, most importantly, by light. Sleep is one of the processes managed by circadian rhythms, but it isn't the only one. Circadian rhythms affect our physical, mental, and emotional changes. Our body has an internal clock that keeps everything running smoothly, and some of the other functions of the body guided by circadian rhythms are hormone expression and digestion.
Every cell in our body has its own circadian rhythm. That blows my mind! But it is also extremely important. Your body needs to know what is coming next in order to prepare for it- nothing likes being blindsided! For instance, in order for your digestive system to optimally process food, it needs to gear up for a meal by secreting enzymes and releasing other signals in the body to make sure it's all in working order.
Fun fact: Even plants have their own circadian rhythm!
Let's start with what you probably already know.
Melatonin = sleep
I've talked in the past about melatonin and the body (you can refresh here), but melatonin doesn't ramp up in your body until it starts getting dark. This is preparing your body for sleep.
Other things you may not have thought you cared about when it comes to circadian rhythms but you should, are that this central body clock (called the suprachiasmatic nuclei) is responsible for regulating temperature, glucocorticoids (controls immune response), and regulate your feelings of hunger. All of these are tied back to the day and night cycles. When your day/night cycles are out of whack, other systems in your body will be, as well.
Circadian rhythm and digestion
When you eat, your body transmits signals to other parts of your body letting it know what to prepare for (liver, pancreas, etc). This is one reason why it's important to eat your dinner a few hours before you go to bed. Your digestive system doesn't work as well while you're asleep (which is why you don't poop in your sleep. yay.), or lying down. If you eat a big meal before bed, chances are you aren't going to digest that food very well. Reflux anyone?? Many of your other organs are also affected by the timing of your food intake. The takeaway here:
Try to eat at the same time every day!
What happens when your circadian rhythm is wonky?
Sorry, folks, but this one is a bit of a doozy. Things that can be affected by altered circadian rhythms are all the things you don't want to deal with: increased risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, lowered immune system, and digestive issues. Recently there have been studies finding a correlation with circadian rhythm disruption and increased mood disorders.
So, what can you do to keep that internal clock of yours in working order?
While we aren't all on 'farmer time' these days, and can't just start and stop our days based on the sun, there are a few things you can do.
Again, I stress the importance of eating at regular times each day.
Get up and go to bed at roughly the same time each day.
Exercise at the same time each day.
Stay away from blue light (since light is a major component) in the evenings.
Expose your eyeballs to morning sunlight for increased melatonin at night.
Use a red light at night if you have to have light.
Blue light blockers are probably ineffective (according to research).
To reset your circadian rhythm...go camping! Like, real camping. A few days of camping has been shown to reset your clock! How cool is that!?
Is this consistent schedule of sleep/wake at the right 'light' time possible for everyone? Of course not. Those who work on shifts that change, or who have jobs that require them to be at work at night and sleeping during the day are not able to maintain the typical day/night patterns. Here is a link to some suggestions if this applies to you.
Other considerations are age- babies, teens, and older folks naturally have different circadian rhythms due to a variety of factors. However, trying to maintain consistency with food, exercise, and sleep is your best bet to staying healthy and keeping all those body trains on the right tracks!
If you'd like some help with getting your circadian rhythms where they should be, or have been recently diagnosed with a circadian rhythm disorder, feel free to reach out and work with me! Click here to find out how.