Sometimes your body clock can fall out of sync. And whether this is due to travel, work, stress, keeping odd hours, hormones or other factors, it can make it difficult to fall asleep and wake up at the right times. This, in turn can leave you sleep deprived which can affect your performance at work, your moods and significantly impact your long-term health. But how easy is it to change your body clock for the benefit of your health?
What is your 'Circadian Rhythm'?
Have you noticed that you tend to feel energized and drowsy around the same times every day? That would be due to your circadian rhythm, or your internal 24-hour body clock, that is continually running in the background of your brain and moves between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.
We all operate on our own unique biological schedule and that plays a big role in when we feel tired and when we feel awake. When our circadian rhythm is functioning normally, it sends our bodies signals to sleep in the evening and wake in the morning.
You don't normally feel the dips and rises of your circadian rhythm if you’re consistently getting a good night's sleep. It’s when you’re sleep-deprived that you will notice bigger swings of sleepiness and alertness.
Some people can have an unhealthy circadian rhythm due to poor habits or sometimes, biological differences.
Whenever the rhythm is out of sync, you can help yourself to change your biological clock for the benefit of your health, although it may take time and perseverance.
TOP 5 TIPS FOR RESETTING YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Alter your work schedule depending on whether you a lark or an owl
We generally know whether we are a morning person or not. And we can use this to our advantage when it comes to the working day.
If you are a morning person (a lark) you tend to have more energy in the mornings and so should plan to tackle focused tasks then.
Night owls, however, tend to have more energy later on in the day, so should try and schedule mundane tasks for the morning and focused tasks for the afternoon.
The best time for meetings and collaboration tasks for both larks and owls is just before lunch when normally most people get an energy boost.
Stick to your sleep schedule
Whether it’s a weekday or the weekend you should try and be strict about your sleep schedule, by going to bed and waking up at the same time.
You should aim to get the same amount of sleep every night. This can generally be achieved by: relaxing before bed, keeping your bedroom cool and comfortable, not using television, computer or mobile for at least an hour before bed and turning your bedroom clock to face the wall so you’re not tempted to check the time in the middle of the night.
Try and get up at the same time every day. This is because being consistent is important in maintaining a good sleep schedule. The clock in your head needs instructions and by getting up at the same time every day it will ‘learn’ what your desired wake up time is.
Try not to sleep in on the weekends or vary your sleep/wake pattern significantly. A drastic change one night might not have an effect, but several nights where your sleep schedule has been disrupted might lead to a ‘social jet lag’ feeling on Monday.
You need to be strict with yourself about sticking to your sleep schedule. If you can reach a workable bedtime and a consistent wake up time, try not to allow yourself to stray from it too often. Predictability is key.
Manipulate your exposure to light
Light has a very important role to play in helping control your circadian rhythm.
In the morning, you should try and get plenty of sunlight, preferably at least 20 mins of direct sunlight on your face within two hours of waking and then keep yourself exposed to bright lights or sunlight throughout the day. This will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.
When the sun goes down, and you are trying to relax before bedtime try and decrease the amount of light you expose yourself to.
Dimming household lights can be a simple and effective way to help keep your circadian rhythm in sync. If possible, use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
You should also try and avoid exposure to blue light from bright digital screens at least two to three hours before your bedtime.
The use of digital devices has increased significantly over the last few years with most of us spending the majority of our waking hours staring at a digital screen. In fact, 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day in front of a digital device. Excessive blue light exposure can affect our body’s production of melatonin as well as potentially shifting your circadian rhythm forward by three hours.
Blue light rays are among the shortest, highest energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum and because they are shorter, these "Blue" or High Energy Visible (HEV) wavelengths flicker more easily creating a glare which may be one of the reasons for eyestrain, headaches, physical and mental fatigue caused by many hours staring at a digital screen, computer or other electronic device.
A healthy diet
We’re all aware that we should eat a healthy diet.
However, eating well and at the right hours can also help in keeping a regular circadian rhythm.
In a study, Harvard researchers found that, in animals, circadian rhythms shifted to match food availability. That is, if food was only available during a sleep cycle, their circadian rhythms adjusted to be awake then, and sleep when it wasn’t available.
So, try and stick to regular breakfast and dinner times to help support consistent circadian rhythms.
There is a school of thought that breakfast should be eaten, ideally, about half an hour after waking, A protein-rich breakfast will give you the strength and energy to get on with your day.
Sleep isn't the only routine that follows the clock. Your liver, pancreas, and other organs have their own clocks that respond to food and a big late-night meal can throw them out of rhythm. There is now a lot of evidence that having at least 12 hours free from food between your last and first meal, can support health by allowing the body to finish all its processes before having to restart. So try and get most of your calories earlier in the day and then have a light supper.
Like a healthy diet, exercise is also beneficial for us as it helps build muscle and trim fat. However, it can also improve sleep.
People who exercise at least 150 minutes per week generally sleep better at night and feel more alert during the day.
And, like eating, when you exercise can also interfere with your circadian rhythm. For example, high-intensity cardio exercise will make you feel more alert, so it’s not a good idea to this type of exercise in the evening when you’re trying to wind down.
High-energy exercise should ideally be done in the morning or afternoon and a calming exercise that incorporates stretching is best for before bed.
If you would like any help creating steps to improving your sleep, health or general well-being then contact Helen on 07545 227272, email email@example.com or visit www.livewellandprosper.uk.
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