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February 15, 2024 7 min read

Our circadian rhythm is a natural rhythm that regulates our sleep-wake cycle, however sometimes it can get out of whack, leaving us feeling groggy, sluggish, and just not quite ourselves.

If this sounds like you, fear not! There are plenty of simple, everyday changes you can make to get that rhythm back in tune and start feeling more energized and refreshed.

In this article, we're going to explain what the circadian rhythm is and how it works. Then we'll explore some practical tips and tricks for improving your circadian rhythm so you can sleep better, wake up feeling more rested, and conquer the day with gusto. Let's dive in! 

What is the Circadian Rhythm?

The circadian rhythm is a natural, internal biological clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It influences various physiological and behavioral processes in living organisms, including humans. The term “circadian” comes from the Latin words “circa” (meaning “around”) and “Diem” (meaning “day”), highlighting the rhythmic nature of these processes over a 24-hour cycle, or around one day.

Key features and components of the circadian rhythm include:

1. Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN)

— The master circadian clock is located in the brain's hypothalamus, specifically in a region known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).

— The SCN receives information about light and darkness through the eyes, helping to synchronize the internal clock with the external day-night cycle.

2. Light-Dark Cycle

Circadian Rhythm day and night

— Light exposure is a critical factor in regulating circadian rhythm. Light, particularly natural sunlight, is the primary environmental cue that helps set and reset the internal clock.

— Specialized cells in the retina, containing melanopsin, are sensitive to light and send signals to the SCN, helping to align the internal clock with the external light-dark cycle.

3. Melatonin Production

— The pineal gland, a small gland in the brain, plays a crucial role in the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.

— Melatonin production typically increases in response to darkness and decreases in response to light. This hormone promotes sleepiness and signals to the body that it's time to rest.

4. Temperature Regulation

— Body temperature follows a circadian rhythm, with a natural drop during the night and a rise in the morning.

— The temperature changes are influenced by the circadian clock and play a role in regulating sleep and wakefulness.

5. Sleep-Wake Cycle

— The circadian rhythm strongly influences the timing of sleep and wakefulness.

— The internal clock promotes wakefulness during the day and signals the body to prepare for sleep at night.

6. Peripheral Clocks

— In addition to the central clock in the SCN, various tissues and organs in the body have their own peripheral clocks.

— These peripheral clocks are synchronized with the master clock and contribute to the regulation of specific functions, such as metabolism and hormone production.

Disruptions to the circadian rhythm, such as irregular sleep patterns, shift work, or exposure to artificial light at inappropriate times, can lead to circadian misalignment. This misalignment is associated with various health issues.

Factors That Can Disrupt Your Circadian Rhythm

Circadian Rhythm


Several factors can disrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to circadian misalignment. Here are some common factors:

1. Irregular Sleep Patterns: Inconsistent sleep-wake schedules, such as staying up late on weekends and sleeping in, can disrupt the natural circadian rhythm.

2. Shift Work: Working irregular or night shifts can lead to a misalignment between the internal circadian clock and the external light-dark cycle, affecting sleep quality and overall health.

3. Jet Lag: Rapid travel across multiple time zones can result in jet lag, where the internal clock is not synchronized with the new local time, leading to sleep disturbances and fatigue.

4. Artificial Light Exposure: Exposure to artificial light, especially blue light emitted by screens like TVs and electronic devices, in the evening can suppress melatonin production and delay the onset of sleep.

5. Lack of Natural Light Exposure: Insufficient exposure to bright light, particularly natural morning light, can disrupt the circadian rhythm and impact sleep-wake patterns.

6. Late-Night Stimulants: Consuming stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime can interfere with the ability to fall asleep.

Circadian Rhythm & late night snacks

7. Inconsistent Meal Timing: Irregular meal timing, especially late-night eating, can impact the body's internal clock and disrupt sleep patterns.

8. Social Jet Lag: Social activities and obligations that extend into late hours can create a misalignment between social and biological time, leading to social jet lag.

9. Certain Medications: Some medications, particularly those affecting the central nervous system, can interfere with the circadian rhythm and sleep cycles.

10. Chronic Stress: Persistent stress can disrupt the circadian rhythm, affecting the quality of sleep and overall well-being.

11. Age-related Changes: As people age, there may be natural changes in the circadian rhythm, leading to shifts in sleep patterns and preferences in older adults.

12. Health Conditions: Certain health conditions, such as insomnia, sleep disorders, or neurological disorders, can disrupt the circadian rhythm.

13. Excessive Napping: Long or irregular napping during the day, especially close to bedtime, can interfere with nighttime sleep and disrupt the circadian rhythm.

Understanding these factors and making lifestyle adjustments to prioritize consistent sleep schedules, appropriate light exposure, and healthy habits can help mitigate disruptions to the circadian rhythm.

Consequences of a Misaligned Circadian Rhythm

Mood disorder caused by circadian rhythm upset

Disruption of the sleep-wake rhythm can have significant consequences for both physical and mental health. Here are some of the potential consequences:

1. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

Circadian rhythm disruption can lead to various sleep disorders, including insomnia, delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), advanced sleep phase disorder (ASPD), and shift work sleep disorder.

2. Fatigue and Daytime Sleepiness

Disrupted circadian rhythms often result in fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness, and reduced alertness, which can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of accidents and errors.

3. Impaired Cognitive Function

Circadian misalignment has been linked to cognitive impairments, including difficulties with memory, attention, concentration, and problem-solving skills.

4. Mood Disorders

Chronic circadian disruption is associated with an increased risk of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

5. Metabolic Dysfunction

Circadian rhythm disturbances have been linked to metabolic disorders, including obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and dyslipidemia.

6. Cardiovascular Health Issues

Disrupted circadian rhythms may contribute to cardiovascular problems, including hypertension, heart disease, and irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

7. Immune System Dysfunction

Circadian disruption can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and impairing the body's ability to fight off illness.

8. Digestive Problems

Irregular eating patterns and circadian misalignment can disrupt gastrointestinal function, leading to digestive issues such as indigestion, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

9. Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases

Chronic circadian disruption is associated with an increased risk of developing various chronic diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and metabolic syndrome.

10. Reduced Quality of Life

Overall, circadian rhythm disruption can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, affecting their body functions, physical health, mental well-being, productivity, and social interactions.

It's important to address circadian disruptions promptly to minimize their impact on health and well-being.

Lifestyle changes and adjusted sleep habits may be the solution, but in cases where circadian system disruption is severe or persistent, seeking medical advice from a healthcare professional or sleep specialist may be necessary to explore further interventions and treatments such as bright light therapy.

How to Improve Your Circadian Rhythm

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly improve circadian rhythm and overall well-being. Here are some lifestyle changes to consider:

1. Regular Sleep Schedule

— Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.

— Consistency reinforces the body's internal clock.

Bright morning light for balanced circadian rhythm

2. Morning Exposure to Natural Light

— Spend time outdoors in the morning to get exposure to natural sunlight.

— Morning light helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm and supports alertness.

3. Limit Evening Exposure to Screens

— Reduce exposure to electronic devices at least 1–2 hours before bedtime.

— Blue light emitted by screens can interfere with melatonin production.

Light-blocking glasses, screen filters, or smartphone apps can help dim the light from your electronic devices.

4. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

— Establish a calming pre-sleep routine to signal to your body that it's time to wind down.

— Activities might include reading, gentle stretching, or meditation.

5. Control Bedroom Environment

— Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.

— Use blackout curtains and consider using white noise machines if necessary.

Balanced Diet

6. Balanced Diet

— Consume a well-balanced diet with a focus on nutrient-dense foods.

— Try to have regular meals and avoid heavy or large meals close to bedtime.

7. Eat Melatonin-Rich Foods

Melatonin has been identified in many foods, some of which include:

— Eggs and fish are the richest animal sources.

— Nuts, some cereals, mushrooms, and germinated legumes or seeds are rich plant sources.

8. Stay Hydrated

— Maintain adequate hydration throughout the day.

— Limit excessive fluid intake close to bedtime to avoid disruptions during sleep.

Regular Exercise for Circadian Rhythm

9. Regular Exercise

— Engage in regular physical activity, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

— Workouts can help regulate circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality.

10. Manage Stress

— Practice stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.

— Chronic stress can disrupt the circadian rhythm, so finding effective stress reduction strategies is crucial.

11. Avoid Stimulants

— Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening.

— Be mindful of the stimulating effects of certain medications and supplements.

12. Consider Your Chronotype

—Understand your natural chronotype (morning person, night owl) and try to align activities accordingly.

— Schedule demanding tasks during peak alertness periods.

13. Limit Naps

— If you need to nap, keep it short (20–30 minutes) and avoid napping late in the day.

— Excessive napping can prevent you from having enough hours of sleep through the night.

14. Be Mindful of Shift Work

— If you work irregular hours or night shifts, try to establish a consistent sleep-wake schedule during your off days.

— For shift workers, wearing light-blocking glasses when they are outside during the day may help.

15. Limit Alcohol

— Reduce alcohol consumption, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime.

— While alcohol may initially induce sleep, it can disrupt sleep cycles later in the night.

Remember that these changes may take time to show results, and consistency is crucial. If sleep problems persist, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist for personalized guidance.

You may want to look at high-quality sleep aids backed by science to give you a deeper, more restful sleep.

Sleep & circadian rhythm

In a Nutshell

So, there you have it, folks! Improving your circadian rhythm doesn't have to be rocket science.

Making a few tweaks to your daily routine might be all you need to do to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, getting plenty of natural light exposure during the day, and practicing relaxation techniques before bed can help reset your body's internal clock.

This can get you back on track to better sleep and overall well-being. So go ahead, give these tips a try, and here's to waking up feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day throws your way. Sweet dreams!