Your circadian rhythm influences your daily sleep and wakefulness routine. This rhythm is linked to your 24-hour body clock, which is shared by all living things.
Medically reviewed by Dr K on 1st June 2022.
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What You Should Know About Your Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm influences your daily sleep and wakefulness routine. This rhythm is linked to your 24-hour body clock, which is shared by all living things. Outside elements like light and darkness, as well as other factors, can impact your circadian rhythm. Your brain receives environmental signals and triggers specific hormones, changes your body temperature, and controls your metabolism to keep you awake or lure you to sleep.
External influences or sleep problems may create disturbances in certain people’s circadian rhythms. Maintaining healthy behaviours might help you react better to your body’s natural rhythm.
Source - LIFX
How Does Circadian Rhythm Work?
The circadian rhythm of your body is made up of various components. It is one of the body’s four biological rhythms.
The Body Cells
To begin, cells in your brain react to light and dark. Your eyes detect changes in the environment and send signals to various cells indicating whether it is time to sleep or wake up.
These cells then transmit additional signals to other sections of the brain, which activate various mechanisms that make you weary or alert.
Melatonin and cortisol levels may rise or fall as part of your circadian cycle. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone that your body produces more of at night and regulates during the day. Cortisol has the ability to increase alertness, and your body generates more of it in the morning.
Your circadian rhythm includes your body temperature and metabolism. When you sleep, your body temperature dips and rises throughout the day. Furthermore, your metabolism operates at varying speeds throughout the day.
Other things may also have an impact on your circadian rhythm. Your rhythm may change as a result of your job hours, physical exercise, and other habits or lifestyle choices.
Another aspect that affects your circadian rhythm is your age. Circadian rhythms are experienced differently by infants, adolescents, and adults.
Circadian Rhythm In Infants
A newborn’s circadian rhythm does not develop until a few months old. Due to this, their sleeping habits may be inconsistent throughout their first few days, weeks, and months of life. Their circadian rhythm evolves as they adjust to their surroundings and undergo physical changes. Melatonin production begins about three months, while cortisol production begins between two and nine months.
Once their circadian rhythm and accompanying bodily processes develop, toddlers and children have a predictable sleep cycle. Children need 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night.
Circadian Rhythm In Adolescents
Teenagers have a circadian rhythm change known as sleep phase delay. Unlike their childhood years when they went to bed early at 8 or 9 p.m., teens may not fall asleep until much later in the night.
Melatonin levels may not increase until 10 or 11 p.m., or perhaps later. As a consequence of this change, an adolescent will need to sleep later in the morning. Their peak sleeping hours are between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. — or even later — yet they still need the same amount of sleep as children.
Adults’ Circadian Rhythm
Adults who maintain healthy lifestyles should have a reasonably constant circadian rhythm. If adults stick to a reasonably regular schedule and get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, their bedtimes and waking times should stay consistent. Adults are likely to fall asleep before midnight since melatonin is released into their systems. They are the most sluggish throughout the day between 2 and 4 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.
Older adults may notice that their circadian rhythm shifts with age, causing them to go to bed earlier and get up in the early hours of the morning. In general, this is a core feature of the ageing process.
Inconsistent Circadian Rhythm Factors And Ways To Reset
It is often impossible to follow your circadian rhythm since your daily obligations and internal clock contradict. This can happen as a result of:
- Overnight or off-hours work shifts that run contrary to the day’s normal light and dark cycles.
- Work shifts with irregular hours.
- Travel that involves crossing one or more time zones.
- A way of life that promotes staying up late or getting up early.
- Medications you are consuming.
- Mental health issues.
- Brain damage, dementia, head traumas, and blindness are all examples of medical disorders.
- Poor sleeping habits include not having a sleep regimen, eating or drinking late at night, using gadgets too close to bedtime, or not having a suitable resting environment.
Your circadian cycle may be disrupted, but you can get it back on track. Here are some suggestions for maintaining a healthy 24-hour schedule:
- Every day, try to stick to a routine.
- Spend time while it’s bright outside to help you stay awake.
- Get adequate exercise daily – twenty minutes or more of aerobic activity is commonly suggested.
- Sleep in a relaxing setting with enough lighting, a pleasant temperature, and a supporting mattress.
- During the nighttime, avoid alcohol, coffee, and nicotine.
- Switch off your devices well before night and try something analogue, like reading a book or meditating.
- Take no naps in the late afternoon or evening.
Changes in your circadian rhythm might be an indication of a more severe problem, such as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. The accelerated and delayed sleep phases are two of these disorders. If you work an irregular shift, are blind, or are a teenager or older adult, you may be more vulnerable to these.
You have a delayed sleep phase disorder when you go to bed and wake up two hours or more later than most people. You could consider yourself a “night owl." This disorder is more common in teenagers and young adults.
The opposite of delayed sleep phase disorder is advanced sleep phase disorder. You go to bed a few hours earlier than most people and get up fairly early in the morning.
Circadian rhythm disorders may include trouble falling asleep at night, often waking during the night, and waking up and being unable to return to sleep in the middle of the night.
Symptoms of these disorders include:
- sleep loss
- problems waking in the morning
- tiredness throughout the day
- depression or stress
Other conditions that are linked to your circadian rhythm are as follows:
- jet lag, caused by travelling over several time zones quickly
- shift work disorder, caused by an off-hours job or a job with unpredictable hours
- irregular sleep-wake condition, caused by an inability to set a regular sleep and wake schedule
You can use some of these methods to treat these disorders. You might try to:
- set a more regular schedule
- use light therapy
- take medications or supplements like melatonin to fall asleep more easily
- try an intentional shift in your sleep implemented over several days or weeks
Your health must align with maintaining your circadian rhythm. If your circadian rhythm is disrupted and you struggle to get enough sleep, you may suffer from both short-term and long-term health implications.
In the long run, a disruption in your circadian rhythm might lead to health problems in many parts of your body. This includes:
- cardiovascular system
- gastrointestinal system
You may be more prone to diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems.
Short-term interruptions to your circadian cycle may cause memory issues or a lack of energy. If you don’t get enough sleep, it may take longer to heal from an injury.
The Right Time To Go For A Doctor Consultation
There are various reasons you should see a doctor about the problem with your circadian rhythm. If you have one of these problems for an extended length of time, you should see a doctor:
- Having difficulty getting enough sleep every night
- Unable to fall asleep easily
- Waking up multiple times throughout the night and are unable to obtain a good night’s sleep
- Having difficulty waking up
- Feeling incredibly fatigued throughout the day
The Bottom Line
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural process of maintaining a 24-hour body clock, allowing you to keep a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining this crucial body component will be easier if you live a healthy, active lifestyle that emphasises sufficient rest.
If you have trouble sleeping for an extended time or are very tired throughout the day, talk to your doctor about how you can realign with your circadian rhythm and get enough rest.