How To Reset Your Circadian Clock

3 min
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Your circadian rhythm is crucial to living your best, healthiest life but sometimes, it can be thrown off kilter, whether that’s due to the lunacy of a super moon, or because it’s been fiddled with to accommodate night shifts and one too many late nights. And while describing it as “a cluster of roughly 20,000 neurons called the suprachiasmatic nucleus located in the hypothalamus” might sound like a bit of a mouthful, simply referring to it as our “body clock” is something everyone can understand. But how do you know if or when your 24-hour internal clock is missing a tick-tock – and can it even be reset?

There are a number of reasons why the need to alter your circadian rhythm makes sense. Perhaps you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, staying awake in the evening, waking in the morning, or focusing on daily tasks and responsibilities. But it might also be a case that you’re changing circumstances, such as crossing numerous timelines, or heading towards a week of graveyard shifts – or perhaps you just feel more productive as a night owl and are quite happy to let early birds catch the worms. 

Whatever the reason, the good news is that your circadian clock can be rejigged to ensure you can meet your sleep needs. Consider these top five steps to set you on the right circadian path.

Bedtime Consistency: One of the best ways to unlock the clock is having a consistent bedtime and pre-sleep routine. The repetition of shutting down for the night and rising in the morning at the same time each day will, in one sense, get your body used to the set timings, while also improving sleep quality and overall health. And by establishing a solid bedtime routine – like reading a chapter of a book, ironing your outfit for the following day, or simply brushing your teeth – you will teach your body to instinctively start winding down.

Bright Light Therapy: Used to manage the circadian rhythm disorders like Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome – which is when a person’s sleep is delayed by two or more hours beyond an acceptable bedtime – bright light therapy (BLT) gradually shifts sleeping patterns, and has proved successful in treating psychiatric disorders beyond seasonal affective disorder, such as non-seasonal unipolar depression, eating disorders, and adult ADHD. At its most fundamental level, BLT, as a form of phototherapy, uses appropriately timed exposure to light (artificial or otherwise) to help delay your biological clock, influencing your body’s desire to rise and shine, or sleep and rejuvenate.

Melatonin Supplements: Though a naturally produced hormone, sometimes we need an extra melatonin kick to help control our sleep patterns. Brain-produced melatonin is released in response to darkness, and helps with the timing of our circadian rhythms – and exposure to light at night can block its production. The workaround, (which is best used for short-term sleep problems like insomnia or jet lag – as well as delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, anxiety before and after surgery, and some sleep disorders in children) is man-made melatonin supplements, which generally help you fall asleep quicker with less likelihood that you’ll wake during the night. 

Different Dinner Time: If you were ever sent to bed without supper as a youngster – probably a more common punishment for Gen X and earlier – you’ll know that hunger can hinder your slumber. That’s because your body clock, metabolism, and nutrition are intimately linked; and because circadian rhythms regulate when you feel hungry, as well as when you feel tired. However, eating earlier – or indeed later, depending on your sleep requirements – can help adjust your timings of tiredness. Concentrate on moving it a little each day, by half an hour or so, until you’ve reached your optimum pre-sleep feeding time.

Exercise: Stress can upset your sleep system, causing tiredness and fatigue, with countless tips in existence to counteract it. One particular trick that researchers have discovered is that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave (deep) sleep where the brain and body have the opportunity to rejuvenate. In other words, exercising helps you sleep better. Of course, timing is important, since released endorphins have the ability to keep us awake, and exercising also increases your body’s core temperature – so get your steps in a couple of hours before your head intends to hit the pillow.

While you’re at it – adopting sustainable healthy habits to improve your sleep and reset your circadian clock – take note of these things to avoid.

1. Naps: Not just because they mess up your sleep cycle, but long daytime naps could potentially lead to more serious conditions, including Type 2 diabetes.

2. Caffeine: As a morning stimulation drug to get your brain and nervous system going, caffeine can be great. At night, however, it will have the same effect and delay your slumber.

3. Blue light at night: LED-reliant devices, including laptops, flatscreen TVs, and smartphones, display the metaphorical dark side of blue light, which suppresses the all-important secretion of melatonin.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Can You Change Your Circadian Rhythm?; Low on Energy? Here’s How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm; How to Reset Your Sleep Cycle When You Live With Insomnia; Bright Light Therapy: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Beyond; Melatonin: What You Need To Know; Meal Timing Regulates the Human Circadian System.

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