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Can’t Sleep? Your Circadian Rhythm May Be Out of Whack

What is the circadian rhythm?

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, often called the sleep-wake cycle. Your internal body clock tells you when to sleep, rise and eat. Circadian rhythms are affected by cues in the environment like temperature and especially the natural blue light that comes from the sun. As light disappears, your internal clock signals your body to sleep. When the sun comes up, it signals your body to rise, eat and get moving.  We now know that when circadian rhythms are disrupted, it affects cardiovascular health, immunity, energy, memory, weight gain and mood.  

Modern lifestyle can mess up the sleep-wake cycle.

Many of us stay up late, watch TV into the night or sleep with our smartphones. Electronic devices emit large amounts of blue light – like sunlight – so your body’s getting a signal it’s time to wake up even though it’s nighttime. It’s not surprising then that the drastic changes in lifestyle and habits over the last 30 years have been linked to disturbances in the circadian rhythm.

Melatonin for sleep.

Melatonin is not a sedative but is produced naturally by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin levels rise during the night – typically around 9PM making you sleepy – and fall right before dawn. Taking melatonin supplements is thought to support and help regulate the body’s sleep wake cycle, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, so you wake refreshed. Melatonin is also an antioxidant that may offer protection against free radical damage in the brain’s cells, which is related to memory and cognitive issues.

Other sleep supplements include: ginkgo biloba, valerian root, magnesium and L-theanine. Try only one of these at a time at the lowest dose, and always check with your health care professional before taking melatonin or other sleep-inducing supplements.

How to sleep better.

Make sure you practice good sleep hygiene by following these guidelines:

  • Reduce blue light exposure from electronics at night
  • Turn off the TV and bright lights two hours before bedtime
  • Make sure your bedroom is completely dark, quiet and cool
  • Spend more time outdoors during the day to increase bright light exposure
  • Engage in a relaxing activity before bedtime such as reading, meditating or taking a warm bath
  • Avoid caffeine after 3 PM
  • Exercise in the morning
  • Keep a consistent sleep and wake time
  • Reduce long daytime naps
  • Don’t eat late in the evening and reduce fluids 1-2 hours before bedtime
  • Use products containing relaxing essential oils like lavender

Getting in sync with your circadian rhythm and implementing a few of these guidelines will go a long way to helping you get a better night’s sleep.

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