I was speaking to a potential client the other day, and he was telling me about his sleep issues. “I go to bed different times on the weekends, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to work and I eat when I’m hungry,” he said. I told him, this sounds like a big issue with your circadian rhythm (CR). Immediately, he stops me and says, “Don’t tell me it’s a sleep hygiene issue, I’m not going to pay for that! Good luck and good bye!”
A big misconception with our circadian rhythm (CR) is that it is fixed with sleep hygiene and just like that. You’re sleeping magically again! Sorry, but that is not how we fixed our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm tells the body what to do and when to do it. Once you disrupt it, it will put you at risk for metabolic issues like excess weight gain, insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
Table of Contents
Where is the Circadian Rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm controls every aspect of your body and brain. There is a small control center above the roof of your mouth called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This small but fierce control center sends signals to the rest of the body when it is time to get ready for sleep, recover, and rebuild.
Every cell in every organ system in the body has a CR. That means if you were to take the SCN away, your body would still spit out digestive enzymes at the same time you would normally eat and the body would typically follow the schedule that you give it.
Yet, the circadian rhythm is vulnerable! Although the CR can influence our sleeping patterns, we can easily influence and change our circadian rhythm. When our body has a strong CR and everything is working like it should. There is a cascade of events that will happen throughout the day that allows our body to function like it should.
When your Circadian Rhythm is thrown off
Sleep is typically the first thing you think about when your circadian rhythm is weakened or thrown off. Yet, we rarely think of our bowels being disrupted, our ability to absorb nutrients, and the ability to regulate our hormones.
Short Term Circadian Rhythm Issues
- Lack of focus
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Elevated Blood Sugars
- Risk for infections
Long Term Circadian Rhythm disruption
- Gut Disease
- Immune diseases
- Metabolic disease (diabetes and heart disease)
- Mood disorder
- Neurodegenerative disease
- Reproductive disease
- Chronic inflammation
How can I regulate my Circadian Rhythm?
As you can see from all the processes, our body can really thrive when we are able to digest our food, absorb nutrients, and then do it all over again. When your CR is strong your body feels great! It is burning fat, it is processing energy and reducing pollution, and sleeping well. Here are 4 important factors that influence our CR.
- Sleep Schedule
- Eating Time
- Physical Activity
- Light Exposure
These four powerful infuencers are the key to a strong CR. Here is how I maximize by CR by optimizing each.
Never Mess with Your Sleep Schedule
Why is having a sleep schedule so important? Every organ has its own clock. Your organs do not have to be attached to your brain in order to function on their own schedule. Thousands of genes turn on and off at different times in a synchronized fashion in every organ in the body.
Remember, we can all have biological functions happening at the same time. Even though every single cell in our body contains a full genome, 20% of our genes can be turned on or off at different times of the day.
So, what happens on the cellular level that is related to our CR
- Our cells ability to consume energy is based on your CR. Their ability to absorb energy and nutrients from food is greater during the day and almost shuts off completely at night. Hence, eating later than usual can cause a storage of calories by way of fat production.
- Our ability to break down fat into energy is based on our clock. If we continue to consume food and producing energy stores for our liver and fat in areas where we don’t want, your body will never get to the mode of fat burning. We will talk about this in the next influencer (Eating Times).
- Cell maintenance and clean up is on the clock. While your body is consuming nutrients (just like cooking) there is a mess and it needs to be cleaned up. When your body is not consuming calories and is sleeping. The body starts to repair and clean up for the next day. This is a very important process in removing free radicals.
Let’s start to practice behaviors that will help structure our CR and optimize our cells to get on the same rhythm.
1. First thing is first! Never create a stressful environment around bedtime or in the room you sleep in. Practice a relaxing routine before bedtime and allow yourself to have a nice bedroom. I make my bed every morning and put clothes in a basket out of my sight that need to be folded.
2. Let’s talk about that relaxing routine. If you are unfamiliar with how to relax then allow me to assist. At least 1 hour before bed, wrap up any social media, emails, or tv shows. From here dim the lights or buy blue light blocking bulbs. If you are looking to buy the bulbs I use in my house click here, and use LLS15 to get 15% off your purchase. In addition, pick activities that will help cool and relax you. Try to start your night with a warm shower followed by deep relaxing breaths to help trigger the relaxing part of your nervous system. For the deep breathing techniques that I use to relax, sleep, and calm my mind click here to sign up for my email list and gain access to my breathwork for deep relaxation.
3. Don’t use the bedroom for anything other than sleep. Ok, sex is okay, but nothing else. TV, work email, or scrolling through your phone needs to be out of the bedroom.
Importance of Time Restrictive Eating
Typically, the shorter the feeding period we are able to give our digestive system, the better the benefits to our health. The break we take with our digestive system has to repair and rejuvenate the intestines, and support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. When the digestive system is working great; you are able to digest, absorb, and eliminate nutrients more efficiently.
In a study, we have seen that no matter the calories you eat. If you stick with a circadian eating time, your body will still lose weight. Although it will benefit your sleep quality if you have a healthier diet of whole foods and lean meat. So how do we get a circadian eating rhythm?
The most important thing you can do to help your food consumption to strengthen your circadian rhythm is below:
- Start by establishing a 12-hour window for a week or two. From here lessen your window to no more than an 8 hour eating window. Find which window of time works best. From not feeling too hungry to so hungry I’m gonna rip your head off!
- Next, keep that window at the same time every day. Unless you are traveling across time zones, then you eat on the times you are traveling to.
- Alcohol, wine, milk, or small snacks count as calorie consumption and will jump start the whole digestive process. If 7 PM is the stop of your eating window. Abide by that!
HOW MOVEMENT ANCHORS YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Studies show that after exercise, the cells in side our muscles produce interleukin-15 (IL-15), which was already known to incrase bone mass. IL-15 also has some benfits on sleep.
Researchers have developed a new genetic method that can turn on specific circadian clocks, like the ones in the muscle. This new finding hints at a completely new mechanism where our muscle clocks regulate the brain and sleep. Therefore having a healthy muscle clock is important to have both a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Get ready to move! Just kidding, but seriously! Our body is regulated by movement and the more we move the better it will work. Here are my action steps on how to utilize your body to get the best sleep and help optimize your body:
- Start with standing. Make sure to ONLY sit when you absolutely have to. When you don’t use your muscles, you lose them. And guess what you get in place of muscle…..it’s soft and buoyant. That’s right, fat! Get a stand up desk, I have a lot of friends that recommend the Vari desk because it rises and lowers seamlessly.
- 10,000 steps. Or get as close as possible. I have a lot of clients that use a stand up desk and use a treadmill under their desk like these.
- Your body craves aerobic exercise like cardio (brisk walk, jogging, or a good run.
LIGHT EXPOSURE: THE ULTIMATE ANCHOR TO YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Avoid the digital jet lag by allowing your eyes the amount of light during the right times of the day. Light exposure at night may be linked to heart disease, metabolic disease, reproductive issues, gastrointestinal disease, immunological disease, and a number of psychiatric disease.
A 2016 study on 600 children showed that children who have increased screen time are more likely to have poor sleep quality and problem behaviors. Light exposure at the wrong time can cause harm. Yet, light exposure at the right time can help your body thrive.
- If nothing, set your electronic devices to night shift in order to eliminate the blue light from your devices. I would set night shift 2 hours before your bedtime.
- For the light in your home, I would buy blue light blocking glasses to help minimize the amount of blue light that prevents the amount of melatonin produced. I will say, avoid your blue light blocking glasses during the day. Your eyes need to capture blue light during the day.
- In the bedroom, I would utilize blue-light blocking bulbs to minimize blue light from polluting your night time routine. Here is a brand that sells nothing but these types of light bulbs and accessories. If you buy something, be sure to use code LLS15 to get 15% off your purchase.
Implementing New Habit Changes
It is time to prioritize the things that are easiest. A sleep coach can help you identify what is best, what is necessary, and how to build on small victories. In addition to your CR, your body can struggle with physical and mental stressors that can cause a stress response. This stress response can disrupt sleep and affect other important organ systems.
To Healthy Sleep,
Dr. Zeke Medina PharmD, RPh
Holistic Adult Sleep Coach and Pharmacist