What's a Circadian rhythm? It's a natural, internal clock that regulates when we sleep and wake up. It has a stable phase that is synchronized with solar time- so a 24hr running time with Earth’s current solar day. The circadian rhythm affects your sleep pattern and how your body works. Hormones, body temperature, eating habits, and mood are all affected by the circadian rhythm.
Genes and natural factors, such as light, affect when you feel sleepy and when you’ll want to wake up. When it’s dark, the nerves in your eyes will send signals to your brain to release melatonin hormones that will make you sleepy, and when the sun rises, nerves will signal your brain to tone down the hormone to wake you up. If low or high melatonin runs in your family, it can affect your sleep pattern as well, making it easier or harder to wake up compared to a standard cycle. Mental health has a bidirectional relationship with circadian rhythms, and mood disorders can disrupt normal circadian nerve responses. Sleep can be disrupted by seasonal depression, major depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and more.
Chronotypes A chronotype is a personal circadian rhythm. You’ve probably heard of the terms ‘Early Bird’ and ‘Night Owl’ - early birds being individuals whose internal clocks are faster than the regular 24 hours and night owls possessing a slower internal clock, waking up sleeping later.
Changes in your sleep schedule can affect your internal clock and, in turn, affect other things such as your immune system, mood, productivity levels and eating habits. Artificial light can affect your internal clock as well, since darkness often indicates that it's time to sleep, blue light emitted from electronics can confuse your brain and slow the nerve response to sleep. Working late shifts and jet lag can also affect the cycle, as you are changing the course of a regular circadian cycle by altering a regular sleep schedule and passing through different time zones.
How to Maintain a Healthy Internal Clock
- Get some fresh air every day
- Have a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Don’t overwork yourself, but try to have some sort of structure in your life as well.
- Avoid electronics an hour before going to bed
- Maintain a consistent sleeping schedule
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