Integrative Nutrition Blog

Insights on Autoimmune Health and Inflammatory Conditions

Circadian Rhythm: The Master Clock

Apr 26, 2023 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

Your circadian rhythm keeps your entire body in sync. It’s like your own master clock that connects your body with the environment and connects all of your body systems with your entire body. When your body is balanced and synchronized, it feels really good. Sleep is great, energy levels are high, and everything seems to be working as it should. When your body is not in line with your circadian rhythm, this is when things start to feel off. We are going to take a deep dive into what throws this rhythm off, and how something as simple as sunlight can restore it.

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s master clock. It uses the 24-hour cycle of light and dark on Earth and creates a feedback loop in the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus is located in your brain and is the main control center for many of your body’s essential functions. This feedback loop takes cues from both the internal and external environment to help regulate this cycle. For instance, daylight and darkness help regulate the hormones related to sleeping. Eating and fasting also helps our circadian rhythm sync with all of our organs and their own cycles of work and rest. In order for your body to be in balance and working properly, all of your organ and body cycles must be in sync with each other and the outside world.

What alters your circadian rhythm?

The big question is, what causes our circadian rhythm to get off track? There are a number of things that can do this. The biggest offenders are jet lag, travel, and night shift workers. Traveling across time zones can really mess with your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. So if you travel a lot for work, your body may not have time to recover after each trip. People who also work the night shift totally throw their rhythm off balance, because they are awake during dark hours and then sleeping when it’s light out.
Other things that can throw this rhythm off include alcohol use, chronic caffeine intake, illegal drug use, little exposure to daylight during the day, and suboptimal sleep habits such as using screens at night, too much artificial light before bedtime, or staying up very late.

How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off?

While there’s no lab test to confirm that your circadian rhythm might be off, there are some obvious symptoms that you can take a look at. For one, if you are sleeping yet feel very tired throughout the day, that may be an indication that your circadian rhythm is off. Insomnia may also be a sign of a circadian rhythm imbalance. Other symptoms include depression, stress, a hard time waking up, and difficulty concentrating.
Also, if you go to bed really late, use screens at night, travel a lot, and are not consistent with your bedtime, you may be heading towards an altered rhythm.

How can you fix your circadian rhythm?

So here’s the good news. Fixing your circadian rhythm is not hard. Here are a few things you can do to get your rhythm back in sync:
1) Set a good sleep routine. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time no matter what day of the week it is. Ideally, you want to have a 1-hour window for bedtime and waking up. If you are someone who goes to bed really late, start slowly shifting your bedtime earlier. It takes time, but your body will eventually adjust.
2) Get sunlight first thing in the morning. This means, getting natural light on your eyeballs as soon as possible. You could do this by walking your dog or kids to school (or the bus stop) in the morning, having your morning hot beverage or breakfast outside, meditating outdoors, or just stepping outside for a few minutes in the morning. The goal should be to do this before 10 am.
3) Avoid alcohol and caffeine at night. Caffeine is obvious because it’s a stimulant and keeps you awake. Drinking caffeine at night affects your bedtime. However, alcohol is one that confuses people, because they think it helps them relax. It does, but it is also a stimulant that can interrupt your sleep cycles.
4) Limit blue lights at night. Blue light is also not great for your sleep. This type of light actually interrupts your production of melatonin, your primary sleep hormone. This type of light is primarily emitted through screens (phones, computers, TVs) but is also found in almost all artificial light. To combat this light from affecting your sleep, turn the lights down at night and wear blue light-blocking glasses.
5) Stop napping. Those cat naps can be so tempting, especially when you aren’t getting a good night of sleep. However, naps can affect your bedtime routine if they are too long. If you desperately need to nap, make sure it’s no longer than 30 minutes.
It’s important to have a balanced circadian rhythm to make sure your body is functioning as it should. For more information on how to keep your circadian rhythm balanced or maintain your healing journey, follow me on Instagram or Facebook. You can also contact me for additional support.

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