The concept of the circadian rhythm can be a little hard to understand, but don't worry; in this article, we will try to make it as simple as possible.
Circadian rhythms refer to 24-hour cycles contained in the body’s internal clock. The body’s internal clock always runs in the background to carry out essential processes and functions. There are many cycles, but one of the most important ones is the sleep-wake cycle.
How do circadian rhythms regulate body processes?
Circadian rhythms work over 24 hours, ensuring that the function and processes of the body are well optimised. An example of circadian rhythms at work is the digestive system. The digestive system produces protein to suit the timing of meals. Similarly, we also have the endocrine system that regulates the hormones to sync with regular energy expenditure.
Furthermore, there are indications that circadian rhythms influence the immune system and DNA repair processes that help to prevent cancer. Research also suggests that circadian cycles may impact the effectiveness of anticancer drugs and that medications may even be able to leverage the cycles to kill cancer cells.
All the circadian rhythms in the body are connected to a master clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN itself is located in the brain. This clock sends signals that regulate various body processes at varying times of the day. SCN signals are sensitive to light, which is a critical external cue for its signals to coordinate internal clocks.
Due to this, circadian rhythms are closely tied to day and night. Exercise, social activity, and temperature are all factors that may affect the master clock, but it is light that has the most significant influence on circadian rhythms.
You should also note that circadian rhythms are not limited to human beings. They exist in all kinds of organisms. For instance, they are responsible for flowers opening and closing at just the right time, and they are responsible for the activity of nocturnal animals at night.
Circadian rhythms and sleep.
As stated, one of the most popular and vital circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake process helps the body know when to sleep and when to wake, and it does this by responding to environmental cues such as temperature and light.
For instance, when there is a lack of sunlight, there is a signal to a part of the brain that produces melatonin which causes us to be sleepy. Generally, the sleep-wake cycle differs for different people, which is why people go to bed and wake up at different times of the day.
However, the most important thing is to ensure that you maintain a consistent sleep schedule - go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
What happens when you offset the circadian rhythm?
The answer to this is immediately evident. If circadian rhythms work to ensure that body processes are done optimally, when the rhythm is thrown off, it would mean that body systems will not function at optimal best. For instance, a disturbed sleep-wake circadian rhythm can give rise to serious sleeping problems.
A disturbed sleep-wake cycle will make it difficult to get sleep or to stay asleep. Therefore, it will reduce total sleep, resulting in even more long-term consequences. The effect of throwing off the sleep-wake cycle can simply be described as shallow, low-quality, and fragmented sleep. A more severe consequence could be obstructive sleep apnea, where the body's oxygen levels reduce and cause sleep interruptions at night.
Considering how important sleep is to productivity, memory, and creativity, allowing anything to throw off the sleep-wake cycle may leave permanent and remarkable damages on an individual. It can even lead to insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness.
What to do to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm
Although we can't fully control our circadian rhythm, we can follow healthy sleep tips to synchronise our 24-hour sleep cycle better. These tips also double as good sleep hygiene tips that generally improve the quality of your sleep.
1. Exposure to the sun
Natural light reinforces the strongest circadian cue, particularly early in the day.
2. Follow a consistent sleep schedule.
Changing your bedtime can affect your body's ability to maintain a stable circadian rhythm. The body develops a consistent circadian rhythm when it goes to sleep at the same time every day.
3. Get daily exercise
Getting exercise doesn’t only keep you fit and makes you popular with the ladies or guys; it also supports your internal clock and helps you fall asleep at night.
4. Get away from caffeine.
Stimulants such as caffeine keep you awake and disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. Different people have different caffeine tolerance levels, but if sleep is difficult for you, you should avoid caffeine after noon.
5. Limit light before bed
During the night, artificial light can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Experts suggest dimming the lights, turning off electronics before bedtime, and keeping electronics out of your bedroom and away from your mattress to promote good sleep.
6. Don’t over-nap
If you sleep so much in the afternoon, you will find that sleeping at night will be difficult. This is not good for your sleep-wake cycle.
Get a comfortable Mattress and Bedding: Where you sleep may also affect your sleep-wake cycle. If the sleep materials are uncomfortable, the chances are that you will not be able to sleep, and that throws off your circadian rhythm.
Wrapping things up
Circadian rhythms help the body perform optimally, and the sleep-wake cycle is essential to quality sleep. Ensure you do everything not to disrupt it. If you’re ready to level-up your sleep game, take a look at our range of weighted blankets and cooling bedding and get the quality sleep you truly deserve.