Updated: Jun 12, 2019
Your circadian rhythm is responsible for much more than just your sleep. This internal clock or thermostat is the master controller of your hormones and immune system.
It dictates the function of all your organs including your heart, liver, kidneys, intestines, and pancreas and has a critical role in the function of your mitochondria.
If this internal clock is shifted even just slightly then hundreds of biological processes will be affected.
Our bodies are meant to be adaptable, but too many stresses - sleep deprivation, nutrient deficiency and a sedentary lifestyle - can all have a negative long term effect.
How Your Circadian Rhythm Works
This internal rhythm orchestrates how much energy you have during the day, the quality of sleep at night, and the power of your metabolism. If this rhythm is ‘off’ you are more likely to become overweight, obese, or develop type 2 diabetes.
Both external and internal factors control our circadian rhythm. External factors (the light your body receives from the sun) and internal factors (when you eat) should be balanced and work in concert for you to achieve an overall balance.
Imagine how soon your schedule would fall into chaos if the clock you used to schedule your day were off by a few minutes.
Each day you would be off by increasingly more time. Compound that discrepancy by weeks and months, and you can see the potential for disruption.
There are many ways to train your circadian rhythm for optimal function - we will be focusing on six.
Do you need a Circadian Rhythm Reset?
You feel tired despite sleeping for 8 hours or more
Your sleep quality is not enough to get you through the day without being tired
Your energy level is low throughout the day
You experience significant slumps in energy during the day
You find it difficult to lose excess weight
You have strong cravings for sweet or salty foods
You need sugar, coffee, or energy drinks to get through the day
You suspect, or have been diagnosed with a hormone imbalance
1. Optimize your Light
Light is the most important factor influencing your circadian rhythm. Simply put, the goal should be to get more natural light during the day and less artificial light at night. More light at night, especially blue light, causes you to produce less melatonin.
Melatonin not only induces drowsiness so you can fall asleep, but it also has been shown to protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases and to have potent anti-inflammatory effects.
It is important to have your eyes see sunlight first thing in the morning if the sun is up. When you wake, open the curtains, and if you have a porch, sit in the sun for a few minutes.
A mineral-based sunblock or clothing that covers up your skin is essential when you will be out in the sun for hours, but getting unfiltered sunlight a few times a day can have great benefits for your overall health and for your absorption of vitamin D. Even a few minutes in sunlight will have an immediate biochemical effect.
Later in the day, start dimming or turn off large overhead lights in your house starting around 7pm, this will slowly acclimate your body to sleep.
Sleep in a completely darkened room with the aid of blackout curtains. If you have a digital clock, change the setting so the numbers do not glow. Do not take electronics to bed with you to ‘fall asleep with' as it can be enormously disruptive to your sleep patterns.
Most phones have ‘night shift’ settings that automatically decrease blue light when the sun goes down. If you do not have this setting on your phone, there are apps you can download that will do the same thing.
2. Drink Lemon Water
Drinking lemon water when you get up in the morning will support optimal brain and neurological function by replenishing electrolytes and ensuring proper hydration. This simple therapy primes your body to function at it’s best throughout the day.
3. Reduce Stress
When your mind is stressed, so is your body. Stress hormones flood your brain, disrupting your digestive system, dampening your immune capability, and throws off the circadian rhythm.
What you need is an effective method to de-stress your mind and body of negative emotions and thoughts.
Remember that establishing firm emotional boundaries with others is key to preserving your health and wellbeing. I talk a great deal about how chemical toxins can alter the body and make us prone to ill health, but toxic people can have the same debilitating effect.
When we talk about health and wellness - everything should be taken into account, and that includes making sure our emotional and mental needs are being met.
How to Reduce Stress to Improve Your Circadian Rhythm
Adjust your perspective - Toxic thoughts are as effective as toxic chemicals in damaging the body. Realize that you have the power to see your life through the lens that you choose.
Meditate - Find a style of meditation that fits you. Beneficial changes in the brain have been noted even by taking a walk through a park.
Exercise in the morning - It helps prime your body emotionally and physically for the day ahead, making you better able to handle stress.
Journaling - Cant seem to get rid of toxic thoughts? Write them down. This is a powerful tool to become aware of the thought patterns you wish to change.
Counseling - Many times, people are stuck for years in unhealthy mental patterns without knowing how to get out of them. Professional counseling can be a great tool to get objective guidance on how to move forward
4. Exercise in the Morning
This is a fantastic way to train your internal clock to function at its best. Morning exercise is will speed up your metabolism for the rest of the day.
Even a 15 minute workout in the morning will be beneficial, or go on a brief walk. Early morning exercise is also a time where you can have a few minutes alone to calibrate yourself for the day ahead.
5. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation within the body can disrupt your circadian rhythm to such an extent that all of the other steps will have limited beneficial effect. Inflammation can be caused by a pathogen (microbe causing imbalance or infection), a parasite, a ‘hidden’ viral infection, injury, poor diet, or a chronic condition.
Food allergies and sensitivities can also contribute to inflammation A functional medicine doctor can pinpoint sources of inflammation through diagnostic testing and can personalize treatment to your unique concerns.
It is common for patients to come to me with a primary complaint of severe energy and sleep problems, but who also have 'less severe' symptoms like stomach pain or headaches which turn out to be no less important to their eventual diagnosis.
Many times, we uncover something like a previously undiagnosed bacterial infection - once this biochemical impediment is removed, healthy sleep and energy can be restored quickly.
6. Limit or Eliminate Caffeine
Caffeine triggers the release of stress hormones and at higher doses will cause significant stress on the body.
When tapering off caffeine, go slow as to prevent caffeine withdrawal symptoms, the most common of which are headache and fatigue. It will take a few weeks for your body to acclimate to life with less caffeine - so be patient.
Increasing lemon juice in your water can be very helpful in the tapering process. Another trick is to switch from coffee to Matcha green tea.
While Matcha still has caffeine, it has less than coffee. Matcha can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms because of the chemical properties within the tea itself.
Usually 1-2 cups of coffee per day does not affect a person’s circadian rhythm, but everyone is different. If you start having withdrawal symptoms when you miss a day or two of coffee, then you need to scale back.
Recalibrating Your Health
These steps are intended to be a general guide and do not replace the guidance of your doctor. Health is about balance - your circadian rhythm does not operate in a vacuum and there are many factors that can affect your energy and sleep.
Do not hesitate to contact me, or another functional medicine doctor address other possible causes of sleep disruption and energy loss. Advanced diagnostic testing can uncover many possible impediments that may be holding you back from vibrant health.
My 'new patient' functional medicine appointments are an hour long so you have enough time to fully detail your health situation. With many conditions or symptoms there are natural ways to regain health while supporting your body's biochemical needs.
Sleep is one important component to health, but combined with a healthy lifestyle, a diet suited to your needs, and relief from chronic conditions you can go from symptom free to vibrant health.
Read more about sleep in our article 'Why am I Waking Up in the Middle of the Night?'
If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, sleep or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.
If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website