Nourishing Your Body’s Circadian Rhythm
by Angela Halderson
The changing season brings more than cuddly sweaters and campfires. It also brings with it (in my opinion) the archaic practice of Daylight Saving Time. While getting an extra hour of sleep in the fall may sound nice, this seasonal interruption of your circadian rhythm, in addition to poor lifestyle habits, can lead to a breakdown in your sleep cycle and set you up for negative long-term health issues like depression, obesity, and diabetes.
Circadian rhythm is your body’s natural 24-hour internal clock. This rhythmic cycle of wake and sleep is controlled by your brain’s hypothalamus and is easily influenced by light, dark, and chronic stress. Symptoms of an abnormal circadian rhythm are trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, decreased mental alertness, poor work or school performance, and even depression.
Your circadian rhythm is disrupted by poor lifestyle choices. Devices like cell phones, tablets, and flat screen televisions emit blue light. This blue light interrupts the formation of our sleep hormone melatonin; thus, we can have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Circadian rhythm is also negatively affected by caffeine intake and eating late at night. And while exercise is beneficial to all, exercising later in the evening can also disrupt our sleep cycle.
If the end of Daylight Saving Time and poor lifestyle habits have negatively impacted your circadian rhythm, there are numerous ways to reset your sleep cycle so you can get the deep, restorative sleep you need to stay healthy. First, analyze your daily habits. Rethink the caffeine and control late night eating. Next, be consistent with your bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time each night. This routine tells your brain it is time to relax and prepare for sleep. Maybe this routine includes hot chamomile tea or a warm bath. Chamomile tea and even a warm bath calm the nervous system, help you relax, and tell the brain to prepare for sleep.
Bright daytime light signals your body to stop making melatonin and to wake up, so if you work the graveyard shift, you may want to invest in blackout curtains. These curtains are great for blocking sunlight and can also help keep the room cooler.
Resetting your lifestyle habits could be all you need to get better sleep, but if your sleep rhythm is still out of sync, you may want to reach for some relaxing herbs. Herbs like valerian, hops, and passionflower are very relaxing to our central nervous system. They also influence our serotonin or GABA pathways, telling our body to relax, unwind, and sleep. These herbs can be a great introduction to herbal treatments because they work gently with the body and don’t give us that hangover affect prescription sleep medications can.
Taking melatonin before bedtime can also help reset your circadian rhythm. Melatonin production is negatively affected by bright light and stress. Our bodies also make less as we age. There are a variety of melatonin supplements on the market. Liposomal melatonin works quickly — often putting you to sleep in 20 minutes. If you struggle with falling and staying asleep, you may want to try an extended-release melatonin. This supplement slowly releases melatonin throughout the night, helping you stay asleep longer.