The Human Circadian Rhythm: What Is It All About?

People love to say that they’ll “sleep when they’re dead” in order to feel better about losing out on sleep. But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that that final rest will come a lot quicker the less sleep you get. One of the best ways to get your sleep cycle back on track and cut down on chronic sleep deprivation is to learn more about your circadian rhythm.

Contrary to what it sounds like, it has nothing to do with music. But it has everything to do with timing. Below, we will take a deeper dive into exactly what the circadian rhythm is and why it’s so important for your sleep health – and your overall health in general.

Defining the Circadian Rhythm

“Circadian” is a variation of Latin words which, when loosely translated, means “around the same time each day”. The reason it is paired with the word “rhythm” is because the ebb and flow of your daily life revolve around a good, healthy circadian rhythm. Understanding how your body reacts during certain times of day can help you plan better, and optimize everything from your sleep cycle to your exercise routine to your meal planning and more.

Your Circadian Rhythm and the Sun

We know a lot of people are going to argue with us for saying this, but most human beings are not meant to be night owls. The human body evolved to rise with the sun and sleep during the night; but modern technology has made it difficult for us to live according to the way our natural circadian rhythm wants us to live.

Bright light from the sun triggers certain receptors in your vision and sends wakefulness signals to your brain if you wake up at the right time in the morning. Conversely, once the sun goes down and these bright lights are no longer visible, your brain sends signals the body to relax and get ready for a rest. But a lack of proper sun exposure in the morning due to an odd work schedule or an abundance of bright, blue light from electronic devices in the evening can throw our bodies off-kilter. Our bodies end up broadcasting wakefulness signals at night and feeling groggy in the morning because we don’t get the right “wake up” and “time to sleep” signals when we’re supposed to.

Breaking a Sweat Without Breaking Your Body Clock

If you know when and how to exercise, you can get tons of health and longevity benefits. But if you exercise at the wrong time of day, it might just do more harm than good. Working out early in the morning – especially outdoors where you can see the sun – provides some of the most substantial health benefits. It stimulates wakefulness signals from the brain so that you have energy all day and sharp mental focus. It also gives your metabolism a boost for all-day calorie burning and maximum fat loss. It can even help you sleep better at night by tiring you out earlier in the day, getting your body ready for rest earlier in the evening. If you’re lucky enough to already be at an optimal weight, or if you can’t work out in the morning, evening workouts are a close second best option. Spiking your body temperature within an hour or so of bedtime with an evening workout, even if it’s a moderate one like a long walk, can make it easier for you to fall asleep when your body tries to cool itself off afterward.

Eating at the Right Time of Day for Optimal Health

There is some groundbreaking research on eating, circadian rhythm, and human metabolism that’s taking the world of science by storm right now. Researchers recently discovered something called the “dawn effect”, which is an insulin spike/sugar crash that happens in the morning right around the time most people eat breakfast. Eating breakfast can help counter this effect, keeping your blood sugar stable and helping you maintain steady energy levels. This, in turn, has several different health benefits which can last throughout your whole day.

For starters, it helps keep the natural energy boost you get upon waking going instead of heading into a sugar crash shortly after you get out of bed. It can also help get your metabolism going so you end up burning more calories throughout the day. Lastly, it can have a beneficial effect on how your body regulates its hunger and satiety hormones. This can even you out all day long, preventing against moodiness or sudden drops in energy levels based on low blood sugar.

How to Fine-tune Your Circadian Rhythm

Wouldn’t it be great if our bodies came with an instruction manual which told us when we need to wake up, exercise, eat, and get ready for bed? Unfortunately, we don’t have that manual. But we’ve done enough scientific research in recent years to give ourselves a much better idea of what to do with ourselves during the day so that we can fine-tune our body’s circadian rhythm. Start by making these simple tweaks to your daily routine for optimal health and wellness:

  • Minimize how much blue light exposure you get in the evening. This could be as simple as buying yourself a pair of anti blue light glasses, or as drastic as completely cutting off all exposure to artificial light within an hour or two of bedtime. It’ll help reset the wakefulness and sleep signals in your brain.
  • Take a walk in the morning when the sun is up before you start your day. The exposure to sunlight and physical activity will have a positive effect on your energy levels and your metabolism the whole rest of the day.
  • Create a good sleep hygiene routine for yourself. Sleep hygiene is much more complicated topic that we’ve talked about before, but the better you get at improving your sleep hygiene, the easier it will be to optimize your circadian rhythm.
  • Rely on a natural herbal sleep aid in order to get to bed if you feel you absolutely have to take something. Anything that contains melatonin, hops, and/or chamomile should work rather well. It naturally helps regulate your body’s sleep response at night so that you don’t have to take a harsh chemical substance which could do more harm than good in the long run.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could be because your circadian rhythm is out of whack. But tweaking your daily habits and fixing your rhythm can be a deceptively simple way to get back to optimal levels of health and wellness!