Do you notice that you tend to feel energetic or sleepy around the same times each day? That’s because your circadian rhythm is at work. What is a circadian rhythm? Your circadian rhythm is essentially an internal clock that operates in the background of your brain and alternates between cycles of drowsiness and alertness at regular intervals. This rhythm determines our sleep patterns.
Good sleep hygiene is so important to one’s overall health. During sleep, the body is busy healing and repairing. Getting enough sleep helps keep the immune system strong and good sleep habits can even help maintain a healthy weight. Sleep deficiency occurs if consistently you don’t get enough sleep, you sleep at the wrong time of day, you don’t sleep well, or you have a sleep disorder. Continual sleep deficits are linked to an increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Lack of sleep can also inhibit the ability to make decisions and solve problems.
The main factor affecting your circadian rhythm is daylight. When night falls, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s drowsy time! Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that lets the body know that it is time to go to sleep. Bedtimes obviously vary per individual and we even classify ourselves as a night owl or a morning person.
If you are well-rested, you won’t feel the dips and rises of your circadian rhythm. However, if you’re consistently not getting enough sleep, you’ll notice bigger swings of alertness to sleepiness. Things like jet lag or the change to daylight savings time can also disrupt our circadian rhythm.
So to get your circadian rhythm working optimally, maintain regular sleep habits. Aim for a consistent bedtime at night and waking up in the morning at the same time each day (including weekends). The more you pay attention to your body and develop good sleep habits, the better you’ll feel.