4 Facts About the Circadian Rhythm
If you’ve been tuned in on our previous blogs, you’ve probably heard us repeat a rather science-y sounding term quite a few times: circadian rhythm. We’re always talking about different activities and habits that can throw it off or set it back on the right track.
Now let’s explain what the circadian rhythm actually is: the 24-hour cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that align to an internal biological clock. The clock is influenced by various cues with light being a significant one, which is why it’s easier to sleep when it’s dark. It controls whether you’re asleep or awake, the level of hormones you’re producing, eating habits, digestion, and more. Think of it as a schedule coordinating your body’s natural functions.
A properly aligned circadian rhythm promotes sleeping and waking on time and all the benefits that brings. A thrown-off rhythm means you aren’t sleeping and waking up at the right times, such as only sleeping three hours a night from 4-7 am when it’s supposed to be a restful 12-8.
Here’s some facts about the circadian rhythm you might find useful to better structure your daily regimen around:
1. Your sleep-wake cycle is actually only one type of circadian rhythm.
As previously mentioned, circadian rhythms influence multiple layers of the human body other than sleep. It controls what proteins your digestive system produces to match the timing of meals and what hormones you produce to ensure the right amount of energy throughout the day.
For example, being in a well-lit area or just having a perfectly sunny day outside can influence the body to produce energizing hormones. Conversely, darkness stimulates the hormones conducive to rest.
2. Aside from light, your circadian rhythm is influenced by a myriad of cues.
Your sleep-wake cycle is strongly influenced by the intensity of the light outside but also by other cues relating to how awake or asleep you are, such as your body temperature, temperature of the air, and what activities you’re doing. If you’re jumping rope 5 minutes before you’re supposed to sleep, you may find your faster heartbeat keeping you up afterwards. This means your circadian rhythm has been disrupted. Artificial light from your phone can also send the wrong cues.
3. Jet lag proves the power of the sleep-wake circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is influential but generally isn’t something you think about. Sleeping across time zones and getting jet lag is a great way to openly display their power. If you live in California and fly to New York, you’ll “lose” three hours. When it’s 9 am in New York, it’s 6 am in California. And your body will still think it’s still 6 am, no matter how many times you gaze upon the majestic Brooklyn Bridge.
4. Abnormal circadian rhythms can have devastating consequences.
If your circadian rhythms aren’t properly aligned, this could result in insomnia, eating disorders, and hormonal issues. You’ve probably endured some times when you continuously were sleeping and waking way too late in the day, or had to wake up at a certain time without getting enough sleep. That behavior could have serious mental, emotional, and physical consequences even after just one deprived night!
Sleep dysfunction doesn’t just come from sleeping too late, but also from waking up too early and failing to fall asleep again. This often happens in jet lag and can really put a dent in your travel plans! Here’s a more detailed description of the consequences and diagnosis of abnormal circadian rhythms, such as gastrointestinal problems and depression.
All the above may sound rather intimidating, but there are plenty of measures to take to ensure that your circadian rhythm is properly aligned with your goals. Here at Lull, we’re pretty well-versed on the sleep-wake cycle and have written tons of tips on how to sleep better, which can help you sleep the hour your lifestyle wills it. No matter what, our favorite tip will always be recommending our plush, ultra-soft, ultra comfortable premium memory foam mattress. Let the cooling gel top layer melt away the stress of the day so you can wake up (on time) to a brighter new day.