Finding Your Circadian Rhythm
Got rhythm? Your body does. We’re not talking about whether you can keep a beat on the dance floor. We’re talking about an innate sense of timing so deep, it’s part of your genetic code.
In fact, every cell in your body has its own internal clock, regulated by a master clock in your brain. This clock directs the timing of your biological processes, helping your body shift through different cycles of activity that coordinate roughly with the cycles of day and night. These cycles are known as your circadian rhythms.
Your circadian rhythms help your body function at its best by preparing it for the right activity at the right time. They trigger the release of hormones that influence your sleeping and eating patterns, your metabolism and energy, your brain function, your immune function, and more.
When the timing is just right, everything works, well, like clockwork. You feel most energized and alert when you’re most likely to be active. Your digestion is prepared for incoming meals and your immune system is prepared for incoming threats. At night, while you sleep, your body works on growth and repair while your brain sorts and consolidates the day’s information.
Losing the Beat
Your body’s clock keeps time by sensing changes in the light that signal the transition from day to night. For most of human history, our activity depended on natural light, so our lifestyles were closely aligned with the earth’s daily cycle. Today, though, that’s no longer the case. Electric light allows us to stay active far into the night. Meanwhile, most of our daily activity now happens indoors, away from the natural light.
As a result, our internal clock can get a little confused, and our circadian rhythms can get thrown off. If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, or had trouble adjusting to the sudden time change for daylight savings, you know what it feels like when your circadian rhythms are disrupted. You may have trouble waking up or falling asleep at the right time. You might feel tired and foggy-headed during the day and have food cravings at night.
In the long-term, the effects of circadian disruption can be more serious. When your rhythms are out of sync with your lifestyle, digestion and metabolism are not optimized, immunity and healing processes are less effective, and brain function is compromised. Circadian disruption is linked with a number of health conditions, from sleep disorders to depression, diabetes, obesity, and cognitive decline.1,2
Finding Your Rhythm
Though our circadian rhythms generally follow the cycles of day and night, they do differ from person to person. “Early birds” are most energetic in the morning and wind down quickly in the evening, while “night owls” take longer to get going in the morning and feel more awake in the evening. You may notice that you feel more alert at a certain time of day and experience an energy slump afterwards as your circadian rhythms shift to a new phase.
Our circadian rhythms also change with age. Babies take a few months to develop circadian rhythms, which is why newborn sleep patterns are so erratic. Children need 9-10 hours of sleep a night but will make up some of that time with daytime naps when they’re young. Teenagers need just as much sleep as kids, but will experience a major shift in their circadian rhythms known as sleep phase delay, which causes them to get tired much later at night and want to sleep in later.3
You’ll feel best if your schedule is aligned with your body’s natural rhythms. To find out what your natural rhythm is, try sleeping without an alarm clock for a few days and see when you naturally wake up, or do the “camping test” and only use natural light cues to wake up and fall asleep. If these rhythms are significantly different from your usual habits, you may want to make some lifestyle adjustments.
You know your circadian rhythms are in sync when you have healthy, regular sleeping patterns. You fall asleep quickly, get a full 7-9 hours of sleep, and wake up rested, at about the same time every day. Not sleeping well is usually the first sign of a circadian rhythm disruption. If falling asleep and waking up is harder than it should be, your body’s clock may need a tune up.
Tuning Your Clock
Your body’s clock is regulated by exposure to light and responsive to changes in temperature, eating habits, and your daily routine. Here are a few things you can do to help your circadian rhythms get back on track:
Get More Sun: Spend some time outdoors each day to soak up the natural light. Open up those window shades in the morning and let the morning light help wake up your brain. If you can’t rely on natural light, bright light therapy with artificial light can help.
Stick to a Routine: Give your body a chance to find its rhythm by being consistent with your waking, sleeping, and eating patterns, even on the weekends. When your body knows what’s coming, it can be better prepared.
Get Some Exercise: Regular exercise is linked with better sleep. Some studies suggest that morning exercise is best for sleep and can help shift your circadian rhythms so that your sleep-wake cycle starts a little earlier.4
Don’t Eat Too Late: Nighttime eating activates your metabolism, making it harder for your body to wind down for sleep. Try not to eat for a few hours before bed. Drinking alcohol late at night can also disrupt sleep.
Dim Lights at Night: Limiting your light exposure at night can help trigger the release of melatonin, your sleepy-time hormone. That especially means avoiding the bright blue light from your electronic screens, which is very similar to daytime light and can confuse your body’s clock.
Maintain Sleep Hygiene: Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet at night for better sleep. Leave the phone and laptop in another room. If necessary, use an eye mask, earplugs, or a white noise machine to block light and noise.
Try Melatonin: If your body isn’t releasing enough melatonin at night to make you sleepy, a melatonin supplement can help. Our tasty strawberry-flavored Melatonin Gummies for adults and for Kids can help make sleep time a little easier for the whole family.
1. “Circadian Rhythms.” National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
2. “Circadian Rhythms.” Sleep Foundation, Sep 2020.
3. “Everything to Know About Your Circadian Rhythm.” Healthline, July 2020.
4. Adler, Laura. “How Exercise Affects Sleep.” Sleep.org, March 2021
5. Timonina, Daria. “Time to improve your health: Focusing on Circadian Rhythms.” Buck Institute, July 2020.
6. “Get in Touch with Your Circadian Rhythm.” WebMD, Feb. 2020.