This week we’re going to talk rhythm: circadian rhythm, to be exact. Whatever your opinion may be on the stars’ alignment or how the universe interplays, there is a rhythm to our days that affects the lifestyle choices we make and how we sleep. In case you missed this week’s live version, you can catch it here.
A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It can also refer to any biological process that has a rhythm of about 24 hours.
Aside from the sleep-wake cycle, a circadian rhythm affects hormone secretion, cardiovascular health, blood sugar and body temperature regulation, and energy balance. If you disrupt energy balance, it can open the doors to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Circadian rhythm is one of the main regulators of metabolism.
In regards to sleep: 6 hours is the minimum you need before getting thrown off track. Just one night of missed sleep and the sleep-wake cycle produces less melatonin (the hormone needed to induce sleep). This can quickly become a negative repeating cycle. What can you do?
1) Exercise. If that word fills you with dread, think rhythmic, movement segments of at least 20 minutes such as walking, cycling, or up and down a stair step. This will raise serotonin, the feel-good chemical which helps induce sleep. Ideally, higher intensity bouts of movement should be done earlier in the day, as it can act as a brain stimulant immediately after exercising.
2) Water and fluids. Water is good for you and necessary but the last thing you’d want to have happened once you’ve fallen asleep is to have to get up for a bathroom trip. Most of your fluids should be taken by late afternoon and only small amounts or none with or after dinner.
3) Slow your pace down in the evenings with something relaxing like a book or puzzle. Skip falling asleep while the TV or other screens are on. The light shortens the sleep cycle and will wake you in the middle of the night. If you aren’t ready to break the habit yet of falling asleep to the TV, set a timer to have it shut off anywhere from 45-90 minutes.
Food and lifestyle: Have you ever lost sleep one or more nights in a row, you’re low on energy, have a hard time focusing, AND you’re eating more? Lack of sleep affects hunger, satiety and carbohydrate metabolism. What can you do?
- Limit caffeine by late afternoon and switch to decaf for the rest of the evening. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and insulin production which contributes to increased appetite. Nature already prepared us for a night without food by stimulating appetite in the late afternoon. With added insulin production from caffeine, you could end up eating more and be left feeling overfull.
- Eat in moderation later in the day. Sleep gets interrupted if you’re overfull or over hungry. When you’ve overeaten, the body is busy digesting which competes for a restful night. There’s some truth to the 2-3 hours of not eating before bed. However, if you eat an early dinner and don’t go to bed until midnight, you might be too hungry and, in that case, a small snack would help you.
- Limit carbohydrates from late afternoon (around 3 or 4 pm). Studies have shown this to be beneficial for weight loss, weight maintenance, and sleep. Add vegetable servings, good for you fats, and lean proteins as mainstays for evening meals. Plan for most of your whole grain food choices earlier in the day.
- I hope you’ve understood why a circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle are crucial for better quality and quantity of sleep. Incorporate some of the suggestions to catch your ZZs and reap the benefits of healthier food and lifestyle choices the next day.
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In good health,