Circadian rhythms are internal changes that set the timing for and regulate various processes such as sleep-wake cycles, hormonal activity, body temperature, eating and digestion.
When properly aligned, a circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative rest that, in turn, increases alertness for daytime activity. However, when your circadian rhythm is thrown off, the body’s systems do not function properly, leading to sleeping problems.
A disturbed sleep-wake circadian rhythm can lead a person to struggle to fall asleep, wake up during the night, or be unable to remain asleep longer than usual in the morning. A disrupted circadian rhythm leads to reduced sleep overall, which means shallower, fragmented, and lower-quality sleep.
Although we do not have complete control over our circadian rhythm, there are several ways to try and better regulate our 24-hour sleep cycles:
- Follow a consistent sleep schedule. Even if you are unable to fall asleep at your desired time, set the alarm and wake up at the designated time. Consistency is key to maintaining a functioning sleep schedule.
- Avoid napping. Napping can interfere with going to sleep at night. If you are someone who needs to nap, it is best to keep them short and early in the afternoon.
- Avoid caffeine. Although caffeine can be an effective short-term energy booster, it is a temporary fix. If you are a coffee lover, consume a moderate amount of caffeine for the first few hours when you’re awake, but stop at least 5-7 hours before bed.
- Limit artificial light exposure and use of electronic devices before bed. Light signals to the brain that it’s time to be awake, and exposure to evening light can shift your body clock to a later schedule. To sleep earlier, keep your surroundings dim at night and avoid bright and outdoor light close to bedtime.