Your circadian rhythm and body clock might be more important than you think. How do our bodies know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up? It is thanks to our circadian rhythms that our body naturally knows when to rest and when to be alert. Circadian rhythms are the 24 hours of biological processes that exist in every living thing. We humans also refer to our circadian rhythms as our sleep/wake cycle.
A great video from Oxford Sparks’ YouTube channel called “What Makes You Tick: Circadian Rhythms,” explains how our built-in body clock works.
“It’s all thanks to a bunch of cells in the retina of the eye called the photosensitive retinal ganglion cells,” the video explains. “While the eye’s rod and cone cells are responsible for vision, these retinol ganglion cells detect the brightness of our surroundings and send that information to the optic nerve to the suprachiasmatic nuclei, the brain’s master clock.
The master clock coordinates all the tiny clocks that govern the behavior of the cells throughout the body. Taking light as its cue, the master clock determines the continuous cycle of physiological changes within our cells … including the production of hormones that prepare our bodies for waking and sleeping hours.”
Our circadian rhythm cycles us between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals throughout the day, like energy waves. The National Sleep Foundation says most adults have two especially big dips in their energy every 24 hours. The biggest dip in energy happens in the middle of the night (between 2:00 am and 4:00 am), and just after lunchtime (around 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, when you’d really love a nap). The energy dips aren’t as noticeable if you’ve had enough sleep. But we really notice the dips when we are sleep deprived.
Why should we care about our circadian rhythm?
When we upset our circadian rhythm, it confuses our internal master clock. We can upset our circadian rhythm by seeing too much or too little light, or by receiving light at the wrong times of day. We can also disrupt it by not keeping to a regular schedule of sleeping, eating, and activity.
According to the Oxford Sparks’ video, “disruptions to our natural rhythms put an extraordinary strain on the body.” This strain increases the risk of many serious diseases. Distorted circadian rhythms increase our risk of cancer, heart disease, type two diabetes, and depression. An impaired circadian rhythm can also impair your ability to think.
“I cannot emphasize enough how important the circadian rhythm is for prevention of chronic diseases. And for long term benefits toward healthspan and eventually lifespan,” said Jake Chen. Chen is an associate professor in the Biochemistry and Cell Biology Graduate Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center. An Endpoints article entitled “The Complete Guide to the Science of Circadian Rhythms” interviewed Chen.
So how can we best support our circadian rhythms for optimal rest and health? Below are six lifestyle suggestions that could massively benefit your overall health by improving your circadian rhythm’s function.
1) Get enough sleep
According to The National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. One of the best things you can do for your circadian rhythm is get at least that much sleep, nightly. We often skimp on sleep to “get more done,” but if our circadian rhythm is disturbed, we won’t be able to focus as well, anyway. So get a good night’s rest to feel more awake and effective during your waking hours.
2) Sleep and wake at the same times
The National Sleep Foundations Sleep.Org tells us its vital to maintain regular go-to-bed and wake-up times. This helps sychronize our 24-hour circadian cycle. “Minimizing fluctuations of bed and wake times to less than half an hour (even on weekends!) allows your body to naturally anticipate and prepare for wake and sleep.” We all want to stay up and sleep in later on the weekends, but consistency is what our body really craves for its best rest.
3) Eat earlier in the day
According to one study conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, eating earlier in the day is better for our metabolism and overall health. It might be best to eat during one 10-12 hour window during the day rather than throughout the whole day. And, again, make that eating window earlier rather than later. The The National Sleep Foundations Sleep.Org further tells us that we should “avoid heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime.”
4) Exercise in light & Rest in dark
A strong circadian rhythm means a big difference between active and resting energy levels. We can increase the difference in these energy levels (peaks and troughs) through activity and light. We want more activity and light during our peak daytime alertness and less activity and light during our lowest troughs of sleep/rest. Outdoor activities that involve significant exercise – high intensity activity and light! – are just about the best thing we could do for our circadian rhythms. On the flip side, limit light exposure at night. And try to rock your exercise routine well before bedtime (make sweat while the sun shines!).
5) Start making these changes now
Don’t take for granted that your body will forever catch up with cheating your circadian rhythm. The sooner we start respecting the preferred working of our internal biological clock, the better our sleep and health will be.
“When you are young, your body can take it. But it doesn’t mean that it’s completely okay,” said Sally Yoo, another professor in the Biochemistry and Cell Biology Graduate Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center that Endpoints interviewed for “The Complete Guide to the Science of Circadian Rhythms.” Yoo goes on to say our circadian rhythm is “like mileage: You’re using up your mileage by doing that kind of [arrhythmic] activity, and that will create problems when your body clock is no longer robust.”
The time to start ticking to the rhythm of your body’s natural clock is today.
6) Listen to scientifically-proven sleep sounds playlists
What if you could access entire playlists of sleep sounds created by a sound engine with an algorithm that takes circadian rhythms into account? Good news … you can.
Several expertly crafted, deeply soothing sleep sounds playlists have recently been created and released by an innovative sound engine called Endel. The adaptive sound technology of Endel generates real-time personalized soundscapes to promote sleep, relaxation, and focus. Endel’s core algorithm is powered by circadian rhythms, pentatonic scale (scientifically linked to promoting relaxation), and sound masking (to help block out noises that disturb our sleep cycle).
The Berlin-based team of artists, developers, and scientists who developed the Endel iOS app — now available worldwide — deployed the power of sound to intentionally promote and enhance desired states. If the state you’re desiring is deep, restful sleep, Endel immerses you in sounds designed to complement your natural circadian rhythm.
Endel just released five sleep sound playlists. These playlists combine the power of science, technology, and artistic creation to deliver soundscapes that lull you into sweet, undisturbed slumber.
Click the “play” button below to preview the Cloudy Night and Foggy Morning playlists (then click “listen” if you wish to view the album on Apple Music or Spotify).
Soothing Sleep Sounds: Cloudy Night Playlist Preview
Soothing Sleep Sounds: Foggy Morning Playlist Preview
Each of Endel’s five sleep sounds playlists feature 23 tracks — 57 minutes — of sleep enhancing sounds.
The circadian rhythm-complementing sound technology of Endel is also available in app form for iOS. Download the Endel app here, or via the button below: