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The Circadian Rhythm Explained

We hate to disappoint all the workaholics and insomniacs out there, but the truth is: no, you cannot "sleep when you're dead". At least, not unless you want to rush your way out of this mortal coil. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis is very bad for your health. But it isn't just about clocking in a quantitative number of hours. Thanks to recent studies into the circadian rhythm, we now know it's a lot more complicated than that.

Circadian Rhythms

Explaining the Circadian Rhythm - Timing Is Everything

"Circadian" is a latin mish-mash of words which mean "about the same time each day". Furthermore, "rhythm" is a very eloquent word to describe the process because it is all about the ebb and flow of when you do certain activities during the day, and how your body reacts to your timing of said events. Yes, you read that right: your body may very well have a different reaction to a certain activity based on the time of day. With some trial and error (and a little luck), you can fine-tune your own personal circadian rhythm for optimal health and wellness.

Sunlight and the Circadian Rhythm

No matter how much of a night owl you think you are, the human body has evolved over tens of thousands of years to rise with the sun and sleep during the dark of night. And it is all based on light. Sunlight exposure during the day in the earlier morning hours releases certain brain chemicals that make you feel alert, wake, and energized. But this process can get interrupted by any number of things (which is a much more complicated topic of discussion).

Conversely, exposing yourself to certain types of light which mimic early morning sunlight (we're looking at you, electronic devices) can not only trigger some of those same wakefulness hormone releases, but they can inhibit the release of sleep hormones like melatonin, which are designed to make you sleepy at night after the sun goes down. Therefore, for most people, misaligning your natural sleep-wake cycle - something that is most common in shift workers who don't work your typical nine-to-five schedule - can have some really disastrous health consequences.

Exercise and the Circadian Rhythm

Picking your exercise time and syncing it with your circadian rhythm can be tricky. It also depends on what you are goals are. Working out early in the morning has benefits for weight loss and boosting your energy levels (especially if you exercise outside and get sunlight exposure). This bigger boost of energy during the day can help tucker you out so that when bedtime comes, your body will be ready, willing, and eager to get a restorative rest. If you're already at an optimal weight, evening workouts can lower your body temperature close to bedtime which helps promote drowsiness. This can also help improve your quality of sleep.

Caloric Consumption and the Circadian Rhythm

During the very-early-morning to morning hours - somewhere between 2 AM And 8 AM for most people who have a healthy sleep schedule - your body sends a signal to your liver to dump a bunch a glucose into your bloodstream. It does this in order to supply your body with the energy you need to wake up and start your day on the right foot. However, shortly after that, your body will experience its highest insulin spike of the day. This is called The Dawn Effect, and it can send you into a sugar crash shortly after waking up before you even have your first bite of food.

Eating breakfast helps counteract this effect and keeps your blood sugar levels stable. This affect bleeds over into the rest of your day. Skipping breakfast allows your early morning insulin spike to run amok. This, in turn, triggers counterregulatory hormones to make you feel hungry all day and causes you to snack more - especially on unhealthy foods which spike your glucose to the extreme.

This glucose spike triggers another insulin spike to bring your blood sugar back down, and the cycle keeps repeating itself throughout your day like a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube man. The hormonal effects will not only leave you feeling emotionally volatile, but it can alter your insulin sensitivity in ways that can make you gain weight or become diabetic overtime. The later you eat calories during the day, the higher your blood sugar will be in the morning which causes an even higher insulin spike once the dawn effect hits. It really is a vicious cycle.

Fine-tuning Your Circadian Rhythm

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to eat, exercise, and sleep at the specific times during the day that are most optimal for their own circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, the reality which most of us are living in is far from perfect. But there are some steps you can take in order to fix the quirks in your day and maximize your body's full potential.

Start by minimizing electronic light exposure during the evening hours. You can do this by simply unplugging from your electronic devices, but let's face it - this is nearly impossible for most people these days. Purchasing some anti blue light glasses can be the next best thing. These glasses block electronic blue light from getting into your eyeballs so that you can have your entertainment and your melatonin, too.

Lastly, if you do have trouble getting a decent amount of sleep during the twilight hours, do everything you can to encourage your body to fall asleep naturally. If you try everything else and still find yourself having trouble falling asleep once your head hits the pillow, we highly recommend a natural sleep supplement. It's much healthier for you than manufactured sleeping pills. You're much less likely to feel groggy and tired the next morning (which, by the way, is a very powerful sign that your circadian rhythm has been thrown off kilter) with an herbal sleep aid. When you use all of these tools to tweak your circadian rhythm, you'll be able to wake up refreshed each morning, kill it in the gym, enjoy enhanced cognitive performance and memory, and live a happier, healthier quality of life in general.