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Balancing Your Circadian Rhythm

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As we settle back into the grind of our busy lives with work and school, it’s easy to let go of those blissful self-care routines we finally had time to do. But while we might not have time to workout an hour a day or make a loaf of banana bread every week (thanks to quarantine), one thing we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice is our sleep. 

Even if you’re getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night, if you’re not waking up refreshed, then you’re not getting good sleep. Plus, even if you are waking up refreshed, you still might benefit from a few of these tips to optimize your sleep. 

Timing and Routine

Timing is everything when it comes to sleep. If you can get your circadian rhythm in check, you’re set to have the most restful sleep, thanks to hormonal regulation. This starts with a nighttime routine, so your body knows it’s time to relax. This could look like a warm bath with lavender essential oil to lower cortisol levels, a steamy shower, five minutes of meditation, stretching with some yoga, taking a magnesium glycinate supplement or turning down the thermostat as cold air helps the body relax.

Although easier said than done, going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday is one of the best things to regulate your circadian rhythm. It creates routine, as does exclusively using the bed for sex and sleep. 

Light

Blue light stimulates the brain and keeps it awake by suppressing melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Avoiding blue light is difficult. It’s everywhere — phones, TVs, computers, LED light bulbs and even inside refrigerators. It’s important to limit blue light exposure before bed, especially for older adults, as we lose melatonin with age. 

While it’s best to put away the phone two to three hours before bed and opt for a book over Netflix, blue-light-blocking glasses could be a good alternative for avoiding exposure, as can switching out nightlights from blue light to red. 

Just as sleeping in complete darkness can help with sleep-wake cycles, exposure to sunlight within 20-30 minutes of waking can optimize the body’s biological clock. So, rather than scrolling through emails in bed, if you have time, go for a 20-minute walk or drink your morning coffee outside. 

Caffeine

Coffee is not the enemy. That being said, it’s not entirely innocent either. Just like any stimulant, it’s important that we understand how it works. 

Adenosine 5’-triphosphate, or ATP, is the main way our bodies store and exchange energy. As the energy is used, it eventually breaks down into just adenosine, which compiles in the brain at the adenosine receptor site, triggering sleep. Caffeine is similarly shaped to adenosine and blocks the receptor site, which in turn causes that familiar feeling of wakefulness. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, meaning only half of the caffeine consumed will leave the body after six hours. Then, six hours after that, one-fourth of the caffeine will remain in the body and so on. 

For reference, 8 ounces of drip coffee typically has 96 milligrams of caffeine, and according to the Mayo Clinic, “Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is considered safe for most adults.” But it’s important to remember that 400 milligrams is not optimal and that some people may be more sensitive to caffeine than others. So, drinking too much coffee during the day can result in disrupted sleep, causing a wired but tired feeling, leading to more caffeine use and less quality sleep. 

Electromagnetic Fields

Humans are electric beings; we measure the electric signal of our hearts with EKGs and our brains with EEGs. It’s no surprise that with all of the phones and WiFi surrounding us, electromagnetic fields can strongly affect our bodies, including our sleep. 

A simple way to test this is by turning off your phone and WiFi at night, which may sound a little nuts, but there’s not really a need for it if you’re asleep anyway. If that’s still too difficult, you could put your phone on airplane mode to eliminate most EMF radiation. For more adventurous folks, going camping for one week could help to reset your circadian rhythm completely. Some people get the best sleep of their lives when they’re out in nature and away from all of the WiFi networks congesting cities. If camping isn’t feasible, but you still want that out-in-nature experience, a Faraday cage surrounding your bed completely blocks all EMFs. You won’t even be able to make a phone call or send a text from inside. 

While it may take some time to adjust to your new sleep hygiene routine, a good night’s rest is well worth the effort.

 

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