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What’s the deal with circadian rhythms (and why do I need to know about it?)

by | Jul 19, 2022 | Women's Health, Women's Health and Fitness Summit

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Did you know that your body has its own internal clock? This clock is called the circadian rhythm and it is your sleep-wake pattern over the course of 24 hours. Your circadian rhythm helps control your daily schedule for sleep and wakefulness. The brain receives messages from your environment, particularly light and activates certain hormones. It is these hormones that control your temperature, regulate your metabolism, help you fall asleep and importantly, stay asleep.

Working with your circadian clock can help regulate many different aspects of your health and wellness including:

  • sleep
  • appetite
  • body temperature
  • alertness
  • daily performance (we are all a bit rubbish when we are tired)
  • blood pressure, and
  • reaction times

The issue of not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep, or enough quality sleep impacts directly our appetite. Have you noticed that after a shocking night’s sleep, you crave fatty or carbohydrate-rich foods to get you through the day? This is not by coincidence. There have been numerous studies, like this one that shows growth hormone (that helps heal us after a workout), melatonin (this baby gets us to sleep), cortisol (needed to make muscle and wakes us up) leptin (helps your body maintain your normal weight) and ghrelin (your hunger hormone) are influenced with sleep and circadian rhythms.

It is easy to label hormones as “good” or “bad”. For example, cortisol is bad, and ghrelin is good. But in truth, we need all these vital hormones. But at the right levels. It is the goldilocks’ effect – too much or too little is not good. And to get it just right, we need to pay attention to maximising our natural circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms love routine

Working with our circadian rhythms, rather than against them, can ensure that we have better sleep and function more efficiently during the day. Circadian rhythms love routine, so try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each night, even on the weekends. With a little tweaking, you can make sure you get your morning light and modify your evening light to further ensure better sleep.

Give a bit of thought to light

The cells in your brain respond to light and dark to make us alert or sleepy. We are literally programmed to wake up when it is light and go to sleep when it gets dark. It is when we fight the programming of our natural circadian rhythm that can cause us to put on extra weight, feel sluggish and make those other peri-menopause symptoms more profound.

Kick-starting your circadian rhythm literally begins with opening the curtains at the beginning of the day and getting that morning light into your eyes. And similarly, make sure your bedroom is as dark as can be to get you off to sleep.

If you go for a morning walk (when the sun is not blinding) – try not to put your sunglasses on. Notice just how energised you feel after doing this, especially if you pop your sunnies on out of habit.

Our computer screens, smartphones, LED lights, TVs and the light inside our fridge produce high levels of blue light. Just think about how you feel when you even think of the light a candle or fire gives off, as opposed to our general household lights.

Finding ways to minimise this blue light in the evening can include:

  • Turn off overhead lights after dinner and turn on soft wattage lamps, or candles
  • Change your bedside light bulbs to ones that do not emit blue light
  • Change the settings on your phone to night shift
  • Avoid reading your devices in bed

Circadian rhythms are an important part of our lives and can have a big impact on our health. By understanding how they work, we can use them to our advantage.

Getting enough sleep is important to your health – start with making these small changes that can then become part of your routine. I call this the low-hanging fruit of working with our circadian rhythms.

However, if you are still having trouble sleeping, please talk to your doctor.

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