I don’t know about you but I have an extra spring in my step.
The sun is out later and spring’s a comin’!
Daylight Savings Time has me in a ‘spring fever’ mode and, despite a missed hour of sleep on Sunday (i.e. ‘spring forward one hour), today I am feelin’ pretty darn good.
What about you?
You ‘morning people’ are probably feeling it a little bit more than you evening people…morning time comes early when you are used to being an hour behind. I, too, am a ‘morning person’, and very rarely, if ever go to bed ‘on time.’ (i.e. a decent time) in order to get a solid 8-hours of sleep. [Quite honestly, I often confess that I wish sleep was NOT a requirement, but instead an option (I love living life!].
Nevertheless, I know (and you know) sleep is vital to feeling and performing your best each and everyday, and without it, at some point or another we will ‘pay for it’—via lagging energy, adrenal fatigue, poor performance in the gym, digestive issues, etc. You name it, sleep—or lack thereof—will catch up with you.
Lately, I’ve been reading and studying more and more about circadian rhythms and our body’s biological internal clock.
Have you ever noticed if you experience different levels of sleepiness and alertness throughout the day?
Perhaps, if you wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. most days, you have a ‘dip’ in energy around 9 or 10 a.m.; Or post-lunch time, 3 p.m. nap time calls your name; Or, it’s 10 p.m., and you are working on a paper or surfing the web on your computer. You were dead tired throughout the day, but then for some reason or another you get a spike in energy.
What causes these patterns?
In part, blood sugar and the foods you eat can certainly play a big role, however, when we look at the way each one of our bodies are wired, we see how sleep (and sleepiness) is regulated by our circadian biological clock, or your circadian rhythm.
In short: Your circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle of biological activity set by your internal clock; For example, the times of day your body temperature is higher and lower to the times of day your body prefers to sleep, eat, poop, sweat, digest and more.
This day in age, our circadian rhythms and ‘clocks’ are tremendously impacted by our society’s “go, go, go” philosophy (i.e. ‘out of sync’ with listening to our bodies), as well as the external stimuli that bombard us daily, and the activities we engage in throughout the day.
Light: Light is the most influential determinant of our circadian rhythm. It stimulates the release of cortisol, which gives us energy and puts our bodies in “fight or flight” mode. Naturally, cortisol should be higher in the morning, as we awaken to light (like the good ol’ days), and then gradually drop into the night, as the sun goes down and we prepare for sleep. Unfortunately, thanks to our crazy sleep/wake cycles and exposure to light at the wrong time of day (i.e. all times of day), can really throw off our body’s cycle. If you think back to human-time prior to the invention of the iPad, or the lightbulb, humans’ sleep/wake cycles worked in conjunction with the rising and setting sun. By design, our bodies are highly sensitive to light.
Eating The timing of our meals can have an impact on our circadian rhythm. Too late (i.e. close to bed), the more your cortisol levels are increased and the more your circadian rhythm is as well. Eating at night also impedes the release of melatonin, which is necessary for preparing the body to fall asleep.
Exercise Exercise is a good thing for you sleep/wake cycle and circadian rhythms as long as it is not interfering with a.) Enough quality sleep; or b.) The ability to fall asleep. Forcing your body to wake up on 5 hours of sleep, or exercising 2-3 hours before bedtime does a number on your internal clock. Your body gets confused: WAIT! What time of day is it?!
Work Work, work, work, with little time built in for leisure or rest can take a toll on our body’s rhythms. We sit at desks, under fluorescent lights or in front of computers for hours on end. Our bodies are craving sunlight, fresh air, change in position, movement and less stress. Although bosses expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. You may want to be your best at all hours, but your natural circadian rhythm is not in line with this. On average, after the workday begins, most employees take a few hours to reach their peak levels of alertness and energy — and it doesn’t last long. Those levels begin to decline naturally, hitting a low at around 3pm. We often blame this on a sugar crash, but in reality is also a natural part of the circadian process. Alertness tends to increase once more after this short dip, until it hits a second peak at approximately 6pm and then declines for the rest of the evening. As for shift workers (i.e. overnight shifts), check out this article here on how to deal with the difficulties of night shifts on your body
Stress. Stress, in its many forms, can have a direct influence on the human sleeping pattern and circadian regulation with consequences on your psychological and physical performance, the metabolism, and the immune system.
And (of course) Sleep. Simply not sleeping enough is going to throw off your circadian rhythms. This is one of the most proactive steps you can take to your health and your own body’s clock (the work, the to-dos, and everything else will be there tomorrow).
So, in our high stress, constantly stimulated lives, how can we take some proactive measures to get back in touch with our body’s natural circadian rhythm?
Here are a few small steps (especially when a ‘solid’ 8-hours of sleep is not necessarily in the cards):
- Nap. Naps can be a good way to regulate energy as well, providing some short-term recovery that can increase alertness. A large body of evidence links naps to increases in task performance.
- Last Meal 3-4 Hours Before Bed. Give your body at least 3 hours of digestive time between dinner and bedtime so that cortisol levels will have dropped before you attempt sleep.
- Consider an afternoon/early evening workout. The optimal body temperature for strength training normally occurs in the late afternoon to early evening. During this time, you have optimal nerve conduction velocity, joint mobility, glucose metabolism and muscular blood flow. If training in the afternoon is not an option though, a beneficial thing for your physiological improvement and well-being is training at approximately the same time most days. This way, your body is able to adapt to this time.
- Avoid Bright Blue Light in the Evening. It’s important to let your body know it’s nighttime once the sun goes down. This means avoiding blue light (screens!) and sticking with red and yellow wavelengths of light as well as keeping the overall light level much dimmer. (Unfortunately, this isn’t always realistic for most people, so you may need to use some technology to manage your light exposure after dark. Check out F.lux: a computer program that modifies the light output on your computer, tablet, or phone to the time of day to manage your blue light exposure).
- Sleep in a completely DARK, cool room. Cover up any LED lights on phones, toothbrushes, baby monitors, night lights or whatever else you have plugged in in your room. Blackout curtains are also a great investment. Ideal temperature in the evening is around 65-degrees or below (being warmer during the day supports circadian rhythms, typically above 75 degrees).
- Order THIS off Amazon. I recently invested about $60 bucks in a Wake-Up Light, or ‘Sun Alarm’ as I call it. In essence, this alarm illuminates your room with natural rising ‘sunlight’ about 30 minutes prior to your wakeup time. It’s AMAZING! The past several days I have used it, I have not needed an alarm at all to wake up. The idea is that your body is naturally stimulated as if the sun was waking it up. So cool. Definitely worth it.
Here’s to feeling amazing! Speaking of which…I am off to bed.