Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm
This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when 6:00 pm feels like 10:00 pm, many of us crawl into bed earlier each night. If this is you, please be gentle and generous about this extra self-care instead of 'should-ing' yourself to be different. As nature intended, we are syncing up with the winter cycle of shorter days and longer nights!
What is Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that affects all plants, animals, humans, insects, and even fungi but is unique to each species. In people, it regulates our hormones, body temperature, and other biological processes relative to our environment.
Why is Circadian Rhythm important?
Our circadian rhythm exists to optimize our function and fitness during waking hours and improve our body's restoration and sleep at night. Falling out of sync with our natural circadian rhythm can lead to poor digestion, disrupted sleep, weight gain, and fogginess, to name a few things.
Circadian Rhythm and the Seasons
As we alluded to previously, circadian rhythms are affected by and reflective of the seasons, which is why many of us in the Northern Hemisphere naturally find ourselves going to bed earlier in the winter and staying up later in the summer, correlated with the amount of sunlight we are exposed to. Here is an excellent article from the BBC about How the Seasons Change our Sleep.
What Disrupts Circadian Rhythm?
Jet Lag and Daylight Savings Time are two things that can throw our rhythms off. Pulling all-nighters or working graveyard shifts also counter circadian rhythms. When we are awake during dark (sleep cycle) time or asleep during light (wake cycle) time, we are working against what our biology is optimized for. Some other common factors that can throw off circadian rhythm include stress, exercise, social events, noise, and illness.
How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Suppose you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms approaching winter. Integrative Nutrition's article How to Optimize Your Circadian Rhythm This Winter breaks down what you can do to improve symptoms related to CR disruption. Spoiler alert: Small changes in your diet and routine can make a difference, and consistency is key!
Blue Light Can Be Good in Winter
Rural farmers of the past woke up with the sunrise and wrapped up their days with the sunset, naturally adjusting their sleep-wake cycles throughout the year incrementally. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles, work schedules, and urban environments are designed for convenience, productivity, and efficiency more than nature’s circadian rhythms.
Technology can also throw a wrench into things. You've probably heard that blue light before bed negatively affects sleep. Some findings also suggest that during the seasonal transition from Daylight Savings Time into Standard Time, it can actually help. The New York Times helps us understand this in their article Daylight Saving Time is Ending. Here's How to Adjust to the Dark. In addition to blue light therapy, they share several tips to 'Take advantage of the sun' when you can during this darkest time of year.
Still Sluggish? Be Gentle with Yourself
Now that we've shared a variety of tips and articles from the experts let's circle back to meeting ourselves where we are. Winter is a time of rest in the natural world, and we are part of nature, even when work and holidays pressure us to hustle through it. If you are experiencing depression, please seek professional help and know that you are not alone.
If your mental health is stable but trying to hack through winter fatigue is still not working, here are some simple, early wind-down ideas. Maybe they’ll help you stop 'should-ing' yourself and enjoy the earlier tuck-in you crave.
🌙 Seek out a new podcast that tells traditional folktales from a region you are connected to or curious about. You're never too old for a bedtime story!
🌙 Jot down the to-do's and projects you are looking forward to but are too deep in hibernation to execute (it's only temporary).
🌙 Trust the tired and bank some extra rest for longer days ahead.
How do you make the most of early bedtime and longer nights? What would you add to this list?