If you work your third shift, work all night (whether it’s studying or watching a TV show), or experience jet lag, your internal clock could be off.
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The circadian rhythm, the name for your body’s internal 24-hour clock, controls your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
“It’s not just for sleeping,” says behavioral sleep medicine psychologist Alicia Roth, PhD. “It is for everything that goes on in our body. We have internal clocks for our hormones, our immune system, our digestion. Our organs all run according to a kind of timing system. “
And everyone’s internal clock varies – you could be an early bird, a night owl, or somewhere in between.
If you feel tired and think your internal clock is off, can you reset your circadian rhythm? Dr. Roth gives us advice on how to improve our sleep rhythm.
Can You Reset Your Circadian Rhythm?
Yes, you can reset your circadian rhythm. But first, it’s important to understand your own individual circadian rhythm.
“I tell a lot of patients that they are trying to put a square peg into a round hole,” says Dr. Roth. “For example, you could be natural night owls and your body wants to go to bed at midnight, but you are pushing your body to go to bed at nine.”
In this example, since your body is not set up to go to bed that early, you may have trouble falling asleep and waking up at the time you want.
“It is also ideal to be aware of your circadian rhythm, because it also determines when you are most vigilant and when you are most productive during the day,” says Dr. Roth. “People who are night owls are most productive in the late evening. And morning people tend to be most productive in the morning. “
Factors like light, temperature and when you eat also affect your circadian rhythm. These are known as timers, external cues that influence your internal clock.
“So the sun is a timer,” says Dr. Roth. “Our school schedule, our work schedule, when we play sports, they are all timers. We can change our circadian rhythm through what we expose ourselves to. “
How to reset your circadian rhythm
“Resetting the circadian rhythm really means resetting the time to fall asleep and wake up,” says Dr. Roth. “It has more to do with your sleep schedule than how well you sleep.”
The following tips can help you restore your circadian rhythm.
Have a routine
If you went to bed at different times during the night, try to make a schedule and stick to it. Once you have a routine in place, it will be easier for you to fall asleep and wake up.
It’s also important to stick to this schedule on weekends or days off.
Overall, exercise helps with the production of melatonin, which can help you fall asleep. And exercising can help the other systems in your body synchronize with your circadian rhythm.
But when you train and how you feel about it is different for everyone.
“Some people do exercise in the morning because it makes them feel more energetic,” says Dr. Roth. “For others, it makes them tired, so save it for the end of the day.”
Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening
Pay attention to when you have the last cup of coffee. Drinking caffeine, which is a stimulant, can keep you up late into the evening when, ideally, you want to relax.
If you’re a fan of a nightcap, drink alcohol in the evening too. Although you may feel drowsy or drowsy after drinking alcohol, it can affect your circadian rhythm in the long run.
Limit screen time
If you get in the habit of scrolling social media right before bed, stop.
The blue light on your cell phone and tablet restricts melatonin production and disrupts your circadian rhythm.
Try to avoid screens 30 minutes before bedtime.
Even if you enjoy taking an afternoon nap, that hour (or more) of slumber can interfere with your circadian rhythm by making it difficult to fall asleep at night.
If you do need to take a nap, limit it to 30 minutes or less and try to nap before 3:00 p.m.
Gradually shift your bedtime
Don’t expect to fix or reset your circadian rhythm overnight. Dr. Roth recommends shifting bedtime gradually. This can be done in half-hour shifts.
For example, if you currently go to sleep at 1 a.m. and wake up at 9 a.m., focus on going to bed at 12:30 p.m. and waking up at 8:30 a.m. for a week, then shift those times another half . Hour in the following week.
Why Your Circadian Rhythm Is Important
Your circadian rhythm affects all aspects of your life, says Dr. Roth.
“For example, if you don’t sleep, your hunger or your meal times may be interrupted,” says Dr. Roth. “We often see that sleep-deprived people have their hunger changes, either going up or down, and when they get hungry can change.”
This is how you know it’s time to reset
You may need to reset your circadian rhythm if you:
- Having trouble falling asleep.
- Have trouble staying up in the evenings.
- Have trouble waking up in the morning.
- Have difficulty concentrating on daily tasks and responsibilities.
If you are having trouble resetting your circadian rhythm on your own, a sleep doctor or behavioral sleep medicine psychologist can help determine if you have a circadian rhythm disorder.
“A circadian rhythm disorder is present if your preferred sleep schedule does not meet your needs,” says Dr. Roth. “Your doctor can identify these disorders, evaluate them, and figure out how to treat them.”
“Our circadian rhythm evolves over time,” says Dr. Roth. “As we age, our circadian timing gets earlier. People in their 50s, 60s, and 70s may want to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. If you were a night owl as a teenager, you could be a morning person as an older adult. “