Circadian rhythm: What is it and why you need to know about it

Ever wondered why it’s so disorientating to slip outside of your normal sleeping pattern? Like when you’re jetlagged and feeling completely out of it? Or when you’ve got to get up super early for a meeting/appointment and 12 noon starts to feel like bedtime?

…There’s a reason for that, and it’s known as your Circadian Rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm can be understood as a much more detailed version of your body clock. It illustrates the 24-hour cycle that your body naturally operates on every day, and has done since the beginning of mankind.

This clever system depicts everything that happens to your body within 24 hours. This includes the hormones that help you wake up and fall asleep, the natural temperature changes that follow suit, and just about everything in-between. With this information, we can also understand the outside factors that can impact (and quite often disrupt) the Circadian Rhythm (CR).

But why is this important? Well, if you’re looking to function at your optimum level, to have energy, sleep well and generally feel good all-round, you should get to know your CR as if it were your best friend. On the flip side, having frequent disruptions to your CR, such as having late nights, exposure to blue light after dark, alcohol and or eating late, among other things can all impact your ability to function properly. Which, if indulged in too often can leave you feeling grumpy, tired and unmotivated, and in time, lead to more serious health conditions.

This isn’t to say that every single day of your life you need to be completely regimented, it’s good to take some time out to enjoy yourself and let loose. But being mindful of your CR, and how you can return to your natural rhythm as soon as possible, is somewhat essential.

The two things that most impact CR is light and food, both of which are sensitive to time. What I mean by this, without getting too science-y, is that your body functions best when you have a routine that utilises, and is time-sensitive to, these two factors.

In practice, this looks like this:

  • Getting 6-8 hours of sleep every night
  • Eating within a 10–12-hour window every day
  • Finish eating around 3 hours before you plan to sleep
  • Having a night-time routine that refrains from blue light from phones/screens as much as possible
  • Going to sleep at the same time every night
  • Getting exposure to 10 minutes of natural light, first thing in the morning
  • Wake up at the same time every morning (even if you went to bed late)
  • Taking an afternoon nap between 2-3 pm (this helps when you went to bed late)

    All of these factors impact the hormones, and the consequential effects they have on the body, which can impact your health.

    This is a very rough outline of circadian rhythms are and how best to maintain yours. There is ongoing research on this topic as we learn more and more about its importance. If you’d like to know more, this Ted Talk explains it in much more detail.

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