Last updated on April 1, 2021.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is severely disturbing our lives and our daily routines and work calendars affected as a result. While you may think that a 1-or-2-hour occasional change of schedule isn’t a big issue, according to science, shifting external time – even just by a short period – can bring destruction to our circadian rhythm. Having irregular circadian rhythms can lead us to low energy levels, negative moods and poor health in general. Here are some tips on how to reset your circadian rhythm for better sleep and energy.
What Are Circadian Rhythms?
Circadian rhythms are (roughly) 24-hour cycles that are regulated by our body’s circadian clock (also known as internal clock). These cycles govern various body functions, such as digestion, body temperature and hormone activity. One of the most crucial and famous circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. The master clock is located in the hypothalamus (a part of the brain), which responses to external light received from our eyes. The level of lightness affects the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that makes us sleepy. This is why we are more alert and awake during daytime when the sun is up, and are more prepared to go to sleep after the sun goes down.
To keep our sleep-wake cycle balanced, it is important to follow our body’s natural cues regarding sleepiness and wakefulness. A change of schedule (for example, due to all-nighters, jet lag, shift work, etc.) can disrupt our circadian rhythms. In the short term, you may occasionally feel tired during the day. However, in the long run, disturbed circadian rhythms can contribute to a variety of diseases such as diabetes, depression and sleep disorders. Therefore, we have to fix our internal clock before it is too late.
How to Reset Our Circadian Rhythm?
Try to follow the 5 tips below to keep your circadian rhythm functioning as it is supposed to be:
#1 SET A DESIRED SLEEP-WAKE SCHEDULE & STICK TO IT
Remember, regularity is the key to a stable sleep-wake cycle. Let’s say you have to wake up at 7 in the morning on weekdays in order to arrive at work on time. You wish to get 9 hours of sleep daily, which means you need to sleep at 10 at night. However, you have been used to sleep and wake up later. What can you do? It is completely normal that you find yourself unable to adapt to your new schedule immediately. Give yourself some time and make gradual changes instead. In this case, for example, you may try to sleep 15 to 30 minutes earlier than the bedtime of the night before, until you reach your desired bedtime, then stick to it. Similarly, slightly adjust your wake-up time each day and soon one day you might be able to wake naturally at your desired hour. As you sleep and wake at your scheduled time consistently, a pattern will be created and you will no longer struggle to fall asleep or wake up at the scheduled time. We understand that you may sometimes need or want to stay up later (e.g. finishing the book you read, partying), but it is very important to follow your schedule, even on weekends.
#2 Control your light exposure
Having difficulty to leave your bed early in the morning? Pull up the blinds to expose yourself to daylight is a good way to wake yourself up! As our internal clock is sensitive to light, controlling our light exposure is the best way to hack our circadian rhythm. On the other hand, if you want to fall asleep quickly at night, avoid getting too much light before bed. This means no screen time because the blue light emitted by screens mimics daytime and signals your brain that you should be awake instead.
#3 Change yOUR MEAL TIMES
A study in 2016 shows that changing meal times is very helpful for adapting to new time zones. As it has been proved repeatedly that mealtimes can bring huge influences on the sleep/wake cycle, this study helps to support such an idea. We all like having a nice, huge dinner after work with beloved family and friends. However, in fact, we should try to make breakfast and lunch our biggest meals of the day and dinner the smallest. Also, it is better to consume 80 percent of your needed daily calories before 3 pm and to stop eating at least 3 hours before sleep.
#4 EXERCISE IN the Early AFTERnoon
It’s myth that working out before bedtime makes us sleep better because we feel more tired. It is not necessarily true because strenuous exercise can over-stimulate our body, leading to sleepless. Therefore, try to avoid high-intensity exercise 4 hours before sleep. And what time is the best for working out? A study has shown that 7 am or 1 pm to 4 pm is when our circadian performance peaks. Exercising at those hours is also shown to shift human’s internal clock forward, which means that it will make it easier to wake up early in the morning. Businesses can also utilise early afternoon for meetings when team members are in their peak performance time.
#5 AVOID CAFFEINE BEFORE BEDTIME
It is well-known that caffeine can stimulate our brain and boost our energy, so this tip should be a no-brainer. Caffeine can stay in our body’s system for as many as 6 hours (or maybe even more!) so try not to consume anything containing caffeine after 3 pm, preferably, in order to make sure you will be able to fall asleep at your scheduled time.
We hope this article is useful for you to get your circadian rhythm back on track and get some better Zzzz! Share it and sign-up to our newsletter to get health tips and guides straight to your inbox!