Sleep is an essential pillar of human health. It is the time our bodies require to rest and rejuvenate. However, waking up feeling energised and refreshed has become somewhat of a distant memory for many of us. With jarring alarm clocks, restless nights and such busy early morning (and evening) schedules, it’s no wonder we are so well acquainted with sleep deprivation. I have recently travelled from Asia to Europe, and so the familiar craving for a comfortable, dark and quiet place to sleep has been at the forefront of my mind.
Just over two years ago we published an initial blog post on sleep, which you can read here (US only). We outlined how to get ready for bed by creating an environment within and around yourself, so that your Pineal Gland will release Melatonin. Now it is time to discuss how we can get better sleep by resetting our circadian rhythms.
What Are Circadian Rhythms?
I think most of us are somewhat familiar with what circadian rhythms are, in that we know our hormones melatonin and serotonin regulate our natural sleep cycle. But, why are they called circadian and how do they work?
Circadian rhythms are certainly not limited to humans. By definition, a circadian rhythm is simply a biological cycle that lasts about twenty four hours. Scientists have been observing the circadian clocks of plants, animals, fungi and even cyanobacteria for centuries. The term ‘circadian’ was coined from Franz Halberg in the 1950s. Dr Halberg went on to study built in cycles of other lengths, from weekly to yearly and discovered that these cycles are innate and can be manipulated by environmental synchronizers.
So how does the human circadian rhythm affect our sleep?
In an effort to avoid going too in depth into the mechanics and intricate processes of it all, let’s think of our circadian rhythm as our body’s internal clock that schedules all of the right hormones to release when it’s time to sleep, regulates our energy peaks and troughs and even our body’s temperature. In general this internal scheduling will makes us sleepy when it gets dark and wake up when it’s bright. This is all well and good when you live to close to nature and go to sleep when the sun goes down, but this is not the reality for most of us anymore.
Tips For Reset!
If you find yourself in a bad habit of getting too little, or bad quality sleep, don’t stress about it. Here are some tips that can help you to ‘reset’ yourself naturally. This is especially important for those of us who are frequent travellers, or work in jobs that require you to be awake when most people are sleeping.
If you eat your last meal twelve to sixteen hours before the time you want to be your new “morning”, and then eat breakfast right after waking, then you can reset your internal clock to believe that time is morning and therefore time to wake up and start the day. For most of us in the West, we have a very specific type of meal that we eat in the morning. For example, if we always eat a green smoothie for breakfast and don’t usually have that at any other time; then eating that specifically will help you to feel that this is indeed breakfast time.
Our circadian rhythm uses light and the absence of light to determine where we are in the 24 hour cycle of our day. When it gets dark, melatonin is released and we get tired and ready for sleep. When the sun comes up, the light triggers a biological response to wakes us up. In our modern environments, we can easily mimic this pattern by exposing ourselves to bright lights when it is daytime and lowering the lights, when it’s almost bed time.
While we know that being on or near our computer screen is terrible for our circadian rhythm, most of us still use our laptop or phone before going to sleep. Apps like f.lux help you to find a happy compromise where you significantly reduce your blue light exposure, but you don’t have to forego your technology altogether.
Taking a warm bath or shower is a great way to get yourself ready for bed, especially if you can use lowlight. There is little more luxurious than taking a bath, using essential oils and doing some gentle stretches before getting into bed. One of my favourite evening routines is to brew a hot cup of our amazing Heal All Tea, add in a dash of creamy coconut milk and read a novel in my pajamas until I start to feel drowsy.
How do you like to get ready for bed? Let us know in the comments!