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Your Circadian Rhythm: What You Need to Know to Optimize Sleep

If hitting the snooze button, waking up feeling tired, and craving a post-lunch nap all sound familiar to you, your circadian rhythm may be out of balance. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock, according to Ayurveda, run by the master clock in your brain. This master clock is located in the hypothalamus of the brain and is made up of 20,000 nerve cells that create a structure known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This area of the brain makes decisions based on the input it receives directly from the eyes.1

Because the SCN receives input from the eyes, light directly affects your sleep schedule. Before electricity, it was natural for people to rise with the sun and begin to settle down and head to bed after the sun had set. Now, there are lights and phones that offer an artificial light source regardless of the sun's location. This input of light can confuse the SCN, which naturally tries to send signals to the brain that it is time to rest once it gets dark by releasing melatonin.1 The SCN also responds to other environmental cues such as temperature.2

This confusion in your brain can cause an imbalance in your circadian rhythm, which in turn may cause sleep disorders, such as insomnia, as well as obesity, diabetes, and seasonal affective disorder.1 It may also affect hormone production and eating habits.

How to Rebalance Your Circadian Rhythm

Sunshine through window

While the circadian rhythm may be difficult to understand, it’s amazing that the body has created this internal clock that has been effective for thousands of years. Learning how to rebalance your circadian rhythm may help support your overall sleep routine, leaving you well-rested, and ready to take on the day.

Good Morning Sunshine

According to Ayurveda, the “Science of Life” that originated in India over 5,000 years ago, the ideal time to wake up is around 6 a.m.3 While waking up early may not be a favored concept to many, it will help to rebalance your internal clock. Once you wake up, don’t immediately turn on the lights. Instead, open the blinds and welcome the sun in.2 At the end of the day, after the sun has set, consider lighting a few candles or using string lights to offer a softer glow instead of turning on bright lights.

Let Yourself Sleep

Don’t force yourself to stay up, especially if you are in school. Once you are tired, it is easy to lose focus, so give yourself the time to rest sufficiently. Ayurveda recommends that the ideal time to go to sleep is at or before 10 p.m. Getting enough rest is vital to your health year-round, so it’s important to make sleep a priority.2

Put Electronics Aside

Couple in bed at night staring at cell phones

All of the electronics you own likely emit blue light, which can confuse the SCN because it is seeing such a bright light after the sun has set. Set aside the electronics at least an hour before bed, in order to give your body enough time to produce the melatonin that is needed to send the message that it is time to fall asleep. If you have to be on your computer or phone, consider dimming the brightness or turning on the “Night Shift” option.

Sleeping to the Beat of Your Circadian Rhythm

Don't deprive yourself of the sleep that your body and mind need to function at their best. Going to bed around 10 p.m. and waking up with the sun may be a stretch for some, but it can help your overall performance throughout the day. Challenge yourself to try this new sleep pattern for at least one week so you can feel the difference. As the old saying goes "small changes eventually add up to huge results."

References:
1 Circadian Rhythms. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/factsheet_circadianrhythms.aspx
2 Circadian Rhythms and Your Internal Clock: 4 Ways to Sync with the Winter Season. The Chopra Center. https://chopra.com/articles/circadian-rhythms-and-your-internal-clock-4-ways-to-sync-with-the-winter-season
3 Ayurvedic Wisdom for Night Owls: How to Reset Your Sleep Clock. Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. https://kripalu.org/resources/ayurvedic-wisdom-night-owls-how-reset-your-sleep-clock