Back in the day, before electricity, we woke up with the sun and fell asleep not too long after the sun sets. Life was simple. In fact, all life on this planet has evolved to follow this 24-hour pattern. But now, our world is an entirely different place thanks to the introduction of electricity and technology...and our circadian rhythms are taking the hit.
What is our circadian rhythm?
Our circadian rhythm is our internal body clock which governs our sleep-wake cycles and surprisingly regulates all sorts of hormones and neurotransmitters that are critical for our mood, metabolism, body fat, cell regeneration, energy, and motivation. It's often overlooked as an essential part of our health, but in reality, it's crucial to our well-being, longevity, and happiness.
So what throws our circadian rhythm off?
Mostly the presence of light, especially blue light. These are the lights that come from our electronics (computers, phones, TVs, etc.) and also LED lightbulbs. Studies show that exposure to blue-light before bedtime inhibits our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep by suppressing our melatonin levels (melatonin is the hormone that helps us sleep).
What can we do to improve our circadian rhythm?
There are several things we can be doing to get our circadian rhythms back on track so we can be productive and feel good during the day. Here are 6 of the best ways to do this:
1. Avoid blue light 2 hours before bed
Since exposure to blue light messes with our melatonin production, it's best to avoid our electronics the two hours before bed. However, I know this isn't always do-able, so during the times you need to work late or just want to catch up on some Netflix, you can order a cute pair of blue light blocking glasses from Amazon and wear them instead.
*Also note that you can wear blue light blocking glasses during work or anytime you look at a screen to prevent headaches!
You can also set your iPhone to "night shift" mode and it will emit less blue light to help you sleep. I set mine up to automatically turn on when the sun sets, so every night it shifts to the warmer end of the color spectrum after dark.
2. Sleep in total darkness
Any exposure to light during your sleep can seriously alter the quality of your rest and impact your circadian rhythm. It's best to sleep in complete darkness and you can do this by either buying blackout shades or wearing a sleep mask to bed.
3. Spend time outside within 30 mins of waking up.
This is essential for improving your circadian rhythm. We need exposure to natural light and the sun to tell our bodies to wake up, get going and have energy! It's best to do this for at least 10 minutes, and it is a great time to go for a walk or just sit outside and enjoy your morning.
4. Keep your bedtime and waking routine, even on weekends.
I know this doesn't sound fun, but our body craves routine and thrives off of consistency. It's best to go to sleep at the same time every day and rise at the same time every day, but our bedtime and wake time should not vary more than an hour at most.
5. Eat when the sun is out and stop eating when the sun sets.
We should never go to bed hungry, but it's best to eat our dinner before the sun sets since eating after dark can throw off our natural body clock. We want our last meal to be fully digested before bed so that our body can focus on sleep and repair.
6. Avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks/foods in the afternoon and evening.
Certain foods stimulate our nervous system and give us energy, even when our body's clocks are meant to do the opposite. It can affect not only your ability to fall asleep, but also the quality of your sleep, so it's best to cut these foods our several hours before bed or even earlier if you are sensitive.