What’s your circadian rhythm?

yellow petals

Circadian Rhythm

Most of us probably don’t even know exactly what a circadian rhythm is, however more and more research is showing they can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. Often referred to as our body clock, a circadian rhythm is defined as “a rhythmic cycle of biological activity, exhibited by many living organisms, based on a 24-hour period”. These natural rhythms are generated from within the body, but are modified in response to environmental cues such as light, dark and temperature. They influence a multitude of physical, mental and behavioural processes including sleeping and waking in animals and the opening and closing of petals in plants.

Appetite, hormone release, body temperature and blood pressure and are amongst the hundreds of functions controlled by your circadian rhythm. In fact, they modulate nearly every mammalian physiological process. If you think of the cellular and physiological processes in your body as an orchestra, then your circadian rhythm is the conductor, co-ordinating the whole thing.

It’s Disrupting Your Health

Unfortunately, our modern world is almost perfectly designed to disrupt our natural circadian rhythms and this is having damaging consequences to our health and quality of life. Research suggests that this may be contributing to a host of diseases that could be prevented by some fairly simple adjustments to our daily routines.

Disrupted circadian rhythms have been linked to weakening the immune system, weight gain, increasing levels of stress hormones, impairing memory, accelerating the ageing process, decreasing energy and increasing fatigue and daytime sleepiness, increasing depression and anxiety, adversely affecting digestion, unfavourably altering the balance of gut bacteria and increasing the risk of serious diseases including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.1-2

Could Your Screen Be Killing Your Skin?

asian woman holding two mobiles near her face

Bright artificial light, aka blue light, is one of the biggest disruptors of our natural circadian rhythms and in evolutionary terms is a relatively new concept. When bright light enters the eye, and in particular the blue light that is emitted by screens, it stimulates the retina, which sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain that it is daytime. This affects the release of hormones that control our sleep-wake cycle, including suppressing the release of the ‘sleep’ hormone melatonin.

Blue light also penetrates skin more deeply than UVA and UVB light, and has been shown to generate more free radicals — unstable compounds that have been associated with accelerating the ageing process — than UVA and UVB combined. According to the cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting, blue light can also cause uneven patches of pigmentation in the skin, exacerbating the problems caused by UV light. One small study showed that pigmentation caused by blue light was still visible three months after exposure, while that caused by UVB, the type of light that gives you a tan, had long faded.

Many experts now believe that balancing your circadian rhythms may be just as essential to weight control as diet and exercise.

How to Balance Your Circadian Rhythm

woman holding cup

Build Your Bedtime Routine

  • Early to bed, early to rise is the most natural sleep pattern
  • Go for an early morning walk outside, the natural daylight will help regulate your body clock
  • Get as much natural daylight throughout the day as possible
  • Invest in a Lumie bodyclock alarm to help regulate your sleep cycle
  • Avoid bright lights and blue light from screens in the evenings – programmes are available that filter out the blue light from your devices and turn them off at least an hour before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine completely or after 11am
toast with cream cheese and fruits

Regulate your Appetite

  • Eat regularly throughout the day
  • Eat your evening meal at least 3 hours before you go to sleep
  • Eat slightly more during the day and slightly less at night
  • Limit alcohol consumption which disrupts circadian rhythms
  • Prioritise getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep, especially if struggling to manage your weight
  • Including prebiotics and probiotics can help reduce the negative effects of circadian rhythm disruption on the intestinal bacteria.

When you’re on the go

  • Start sleeping and eating in-line with your destination time zone as soon as you get on the plane
  • Get as much natural daylight as possible
  • Avoid daytime naps, if you absolutely cannot keep your eyes open, limit yourself to a 15-20 minute power nap
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration
  • Stay away from alcohol and caffeine during the journey and day of travel