How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm

Circadian Rhythm
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Are you tired throughout the day, but then wired at night? You need to reset your circadian rhythm!

The good news is that I’ve been there and I know how to help. I’ve been implementing different strategies in my personal life and have never felt better! I’m confident that I can help you rest your circadian rhythm in no time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the following:

  • What is a circadian rhythm?
  • How does a disrupted circadian rhythm feel?
  • How does balanced circadian rhythm feel?
  • Steps to reset your circadian rhythm, plus my own personal tips!

What Is A Circadian Rhythm?

Alarm ClockOur circadian rhythm is our body’s internal clock that regulates our wake-sleep cycle. This rhythm is largely controlled by outside factors such as light exposure, eating patterns and other environmental cues. However, its effect is actually so much deeper than just sleep. Our circadian rhythm also influences physical, mental and behavioral changes throughout the day.

All of these changes are supposed to be working in our favor, unless our circadian rhythm is disrupted. Then, it feels like you’re just crawling through your day and anxiously staring at the ceiling at night.

Unfortunately, this disruption is all too common in our modern world that these rhythms often get lost in the shuffle of erratic schedules and screen time.

What does a disrupted circadian rhythm look like?

📉 Poor sleep, lethargy (feeling tired), depression, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and even impaired muscle function.

Disrupted Sleep

Sound familiar? I know I’ve been there before!

What does a balanced circadian rhythm look like?

📈 Quality sleep, improved alertness during the day, increased muscular strength and cardiovascular ability, efficient pancreatic & liver function, and reduced blood pressure.

Sleep

Sounds much better, huh?

3 Keys To Reset Your Circadian Rhythm

⏰ Healthy light exposure:

This is the biggest key of them all!

Our circadian rhythm is largely controlled by light physically coming through our eyes and activating the retina. The timing of the light and the type of light that we are exposed to has a massive impact on our circadian rhythm.

Simply being outside 24 hours as day and letting nature it do the work is the best way, however this is rarely achievable in modern day life.

The next best thing is to mimic what happens in nature – bright, blue light early in the day with transition to warm light in the evening.

Fasting

Start your day off right with bright, blue light.

For me, stepping out at dawn to get the chickens settled for the day really seems to help set my circadian rhythm on the right track. I also use THESE bright light bulbs in my office to mimic daylight and they make a big difference in keeping my energy up.

There are also devices called Happy Lights that provide intense, full-spectrum light and research has found that they are an effective treatment for seasonal depression! You can read more about it here. Make sure to only use them early in the day, because they’ll really get you going. Unfortunately, the happy light that I use is no longer in production, but THIS one is very similar and THIS one is a smaller version if you are short on space or want a portable version.

Another tip for daytime is to avoid wearing sunglasses. I use to wear my sunglasses all the time and couldn’t figure out why my energy fluctuated so much. Sunglasses dim the natural daylight and trick your brain into thinking it’s sunset. Talk about a circadian rhythm roller coaster! If it’s a very bright day, a brimmed hat is an excellent option.

Once evening arrives, it’s time to start winding down with soft, warm light.

Ryan and I try to be consistent about dimming our lights by 8pm and avoiding stimulatory blue light exposure as much as possible. Warm light in the evening is key because that type of light mimics sunset and tells your brain that the day is coming to a close and it’s time to go to bed soon (triggering melatonin production).

Warm light can come from a fireplace or lightbulbs that have a warm hue to them (think Edison bulbs or these amber light bulbs!).

On the opposite spectrum, blue light is incredibly stimulatory and commonly radiates from TVs and phones. Limiting screen time in the evening is ideal, but if you must have exposure to it, there are a few tricks you can use:

⏰ Time-restricted eating:

Time-restricted eating is similar to intermittent fasting, but it’s not quite as extreme. The fasting window is only 12-14 hours long with a focus on avoidance of eating at least 2-3 hours before sleeping vs a full 16-18 hours for true intermittent fasting . This is a lot more do-able for most of us!Fasting

Time-restricted eating is not only an excellent way to calibrate our circadian rhythm, but it can also reduce inflammation & visceral fat (the dangerous fat around our organs), while improving glycemic control & sleep. Are you sold yet?

If a 12-14 hour fast seems scary, trust me, you can do this. Fasting was one thing that I thought I could never do, however, after following a few key steps I now go 14 hours every day without batting an eye.

Here’s how I did it:

  • Spend some time reflecting on your personal energy and hunger patterns throughout the day. Do you wake up hungry and the thought of skipping breakfast stresses you out? Then, eating an early dinner and starting your fast at 5 or 6pm might be the best for you. Are you a night owl and prefer a late dinner? Then, skipping breakfast might the the best strategy.  However, make sure you aren’t eating too late – your last meal/snack should be at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
  • If you aren’t sure what you’re natural rhythm is, take this Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire by the Center of Environmental Therapeutics!
  • Start with 12 hours. For me, I chose 6pm to 6am for my fasting window to start. I followed this for about a week and once it seemed easy, I added on 15 minutes at a time until I hit 14 hours. Easy!
  • Be realistic. The biggest barrier to fasting that I’ve heard from others is that they have a variable schedule. Don’t let that stop you from trying! While a 12-14 hour fast every single day for the rest of your life would probably be great, it’s not necessary and definitely not realistic. Just do the best you can most days of the week.

⏰ Regular & sufficient sleepKitty Sleeping

I know this one seems obvious, but most of us are sleep deprived! We have some work to do!

Getting into a consistent nighttime routine and setting up your bedroom to support sleep is essential. It takes a little effort up front, but after a while your routine will become second nature and you’ll actually start looking forward to it!

Here are a few things that I personally do:

  • Choose a realistic bedtime & waking time for you, and stick with it. The more consistent you can be, the better you’ll be able to lock in your circadian rhythm. If your weekday sleep patterns are hours off from your weekend sleep patterns, then your circadian rhythm will always be shifting around and never able to stabilize… leaving you feeling the effects!
  • Avoid caffeine after 12pm & finish exercising before 3pm!  That way your body has enough time to slow back down before it’s time to rest. Yoga or other restorative-type movements, on the other hand, are a wonderful evening activity.
  • Incorporate 1-2 relaxation habits that will tell your brain it’s time to slow down. This is key if you’re a high-energy, brain-never-shuts-off kind of person like me. This could be yoga, mediation, reading, listening to calming music, journaling, prayer, take a bath, etc!  For me, I enjoy sipping on a cup of chamomile tea, and hand-sewing while listening to an audiobook.
  • …and I’m sorry, but a glass of wine and watching TV doesn’t count as relaxation bedtime habits. I soooo want this to be true too, believe me! As we’ve already discussed, TV radiates stimulatory blue light that reverses our melatonin production. Yes, blue light blockers help, but it’s still not ideal. As far as alcohol goes, yes, it can relax you and may help you fall asleep initially. However, the sedating effects wear off after a few hours and then you’re left with a rebound arousal phase in the middle of the night. You can read more about it here!
  • Don’t forget to dim the lights 1-2 hours before bedtime!

Here’s a few other things to try:

Bedroom environment:

  • Complete darkness; no TV! If you have a TV in your bedroom, removing it is the first thing that I would recommend! Also, take an account of what else is emitting light in your room and either remove them, or tape off the glowing lights. Black out shades are incredibly helpful if you live up north like we do resulting in incredibly long daylight hours in the summer.
  • Let the temperature dip down. A room temperature of 60-65 degrees is ideal. We like to crack a window, even in the wintertime! Something about the fresh air really helps knock us out, too.

Which tip are you going to start incorporating this week to balance your circadian rhythm? Please share in the comments! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm”

  1. I really enjoyed this read! There were so many great tips that I got from it that it’s hard to choose just one. I’ve been working on getting more sleep for a few weeks now and I’ve noticed the difference it makes. When I was skimping on sleep, I was tired and my memory was terrible! Now, I feel like I have energy to get through my day and caffeine isn’t needed 🙂 I’ve been having to take a melatonin supplement most nights to be able to get to sleep at a good time, but hey, whatever works, right?

    1. I’m so glad that you found it helpful and that your sleep is so much better! Sleep is such an underrated thing in our society today, yet it is so so important! Everything we do during the day impacts how well we sleep at night. I like a good Melatonin supplement, too 🙂

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