Unlocking Your Natural Clock: A Guide to Discovering Your Circadian Rhythm
There are multiple models of circadian rhythms that work for different people. So, if you find yourself being groggy even after 8 hours of sleep, or if you have trouble falling asleep at night, learn more about the types of circadian rhythms, the science behind them, and tips on how to figure out your circadian rhythm that works best for you
The human circadian rhythm is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a cluster of 20,000 nerve cells in the brain’s hypothalamus.
While society is biased in favor of the morning lark archetype, there are other circadian rhythms that will be natural for you.
Consistency is key in figuring out a healthy circadian rhythm and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
Did you know?
Circadian rhythms are not exclusive to humans and animals; they are found in many other organisms as well, including sunflowers!
Most of modern society follows a schedule that favors the early bird that gets the worm. If that doesn’t work for you, worry not – it’s all in your circadian rhythm, the hidden conductor of your body’s performance. You may have wondered, what is my circadian rhythm? Discover the science behind these patterns, as well as tips on how to find your circadian rhythm and maintain the natural circadian rhythm that works best for you. Once you understand what your circadian rhythm is, you can align your daily routine with it to sleep well and make the most of each day
What are the 4 circadian rhythms?
The answer is, no. Most biological rhythms, including circadian rhythms, run in 24-hour cycles, while others, such as the menstrual cycle, have longer time frames. Circadian rhythms are most affected by light, but you may still find yourself finding it difficult to wake up in the morning.
That is because of individual variations in circadian rhythms called sleep chronotypes – your body’s biological tendency to deviate from the 24-hour cycle. The modern lifestyle can disrupt circadian rhythms, so here are some examples of different sleep chronotypes
Bear: Bears sleep after the sun sets and are awake when the sun has risen. Bears sleep well and are the most alert before noon, and may feel a big energy dip between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Lion: If you consider yourself an early riser whose performance peaks in the first half of the day, you are probably a lion. Lions tend to feel exhausted in the evening, so they prefer to get things done sooner than later and wind down early.
Wolf: We all know someone who is not a morning person – the wolf is the proverbial night owl. If you are a wolf, you are the most productive between noon and 4 p.m., with extra boosts of energy in the evening.
Dolphin: Dolphins are outliers who don’t stick to any particular sleep schedule. If you are a dolphin, you may be a light sleeper and often feel sleep deprived; you also tend to sleep at irregular times and find yourself awake at odd hours.
How circadian rhythms work
Circadian rhythms are like the internal symphony that keeps our bodies in tune with the rhythm of day and night. Imagine your body as a complex orchestra, and circadian rhythms are the conductors, coordinating various instruments (biological processes) to play in harmony.
At the heart of it all is the master conductor, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a tiny cluster of 20,000 nerve cells in your brain's hypothalamus.
Here's how the magic happens:
Light Detection: Specialized nerve cells in your eyes, known as photoreceptors, sense light and send signals to your SCN, signaling that it's daytime.
Internal Clock Setting: The SCN then orchestrates the show. It sends signals to various parts of your body, letting them know what time it is. It's like setting the tempo for each instrument in the orchestra.
Hormonal Harmony: One of the key players influenced by circadian rhythms is melatonin, often called the "sleep hormone." As evening approaches and darkness falls, your SCN tells your brain's pineal gland to start producing melatonin, making you feel sleepy.
Sleep-Wake Cycle: Your sleep-wake cycle dances to the circadian tune. As the sun sets and melatonin kicks in, you feel drowsy and ready to snooze. Then, as the sun rises and your internal clock detects light, melatonin production decreases, signaling your body to wake up.
Daily Reset: Your SCN gets daily updates from light and darkness, which help keep your internal clock synchronized with the 24-hour day-night cycle.
In a nutshell, circadian rhythms are the choreographers of your body's daily dance. They guide your sleepiness, alertness, productivity, and so much more. So, the next time you're feeling the groove of the day, remember it's your circadian rhythm leading the way!
How do I find my natural sleep cycle?
Observe Your Energy Levels: Pay attention to when you naturally feel most alert and awake during the day. Do you feel more energetic in the morning, afternoon, or evening? This can give you a clue about your natural sleep-wake patterns.
Note Your Bedtime Preferences: When do you start feeling naturally sleepy in the evening? Keep track of when your body signals that it's time to wind down.
Wake Up Naturally: On days when you don't have to set an alarm, take note of when you wake up naturally. Your body's preferred wake-up time can provide insights into your circadian rhythm.
Assess Your Sleep Quality: Besides tracking the timing, assess how rested you feel when waking up at different times. A natural sleep cycle should leave you feeling refreshed and alert.
Consider Your Evening Routine: Your habits in the evening can affect your sleep cycle. Exposure to bright screens, caffeine, and heavy meals close to bedtime can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Try to wind down with calming activities before sleep, and cozy up with the perfect weighted blanket, like our Cotton Napper.
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Experiment and Adjust: Based on your observations, try adjusting your sleep schedule gradually to align with your natural tendencies. Go to bed and wake up at the times that feel most comfortable for you. If you find yourself tossing and turning from the heat, check out our Tree Napper
Remember, finding your natural sleep cycle is about aligning your routine with what feels most comfortable and rejuvenating for your body. It's a journey of self-discovery that can lead to better sleep, improved energy levels, and a happier you!
What is the ideal circadian rhythm for sleep?
The ideal circadian rhythm for sleep can vary from person to person due to individual differences and preferences. To find a healthy circadian rhythm for you, try to match your bedtime consistently with the sleep schedule that aligns with your biological clock.
Here’s a typical guideline for an ideal sleep-wake cycle:
Wake-Up Time: Wake up naturally or set an alarm for around 6:00 AM to 8:00 AM. Cortisol, while commonly known as the stress hormone, is the hormone that helps you feel alert when you wake up. As cortisol levels rise in the morning, waking up early helps reset your circadian rhythm; the exposure to natural sunlight helps too.
Wind-Down Routine: Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine an hour or so before bedtime. Dim the lights in the evening to signal to your body that it's time to wind down, with a soft body pillow like our Cuddler. Consider activities like reading, gentle stretching, or practicing mindfulness to signal to your body that sleep is approaching.
Bedtime: Aim to go to bed between 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM. This allows you to take advantage of the natural rise in melatonin, the sleep hormone, as the evening progresses. Stick to this sleep schedule every day, including weekends. Consistency helps regulate your internal clock and promotes better sleep quality.
Remember that while this sleep schedule might work well for many people, individual preferences and lifestyles vary. Some individuals naturally lean towards being "night owls" and might find their ideal sleep pattern aligning with later bedtimes and wake-up times. Look for these positive signs to spot when you found a healthy circadian rhythm:
- You had a full night’s sleep (7-9 hours).
- You fall asleep in a short period of time (5-20 min).
- You get 20-25% REM sleep.
- You get 15-20% Deep Sleep.
- You wake up feeling well-rested
How to reset your circadian rhythm and keep it on track
Life doesn't always align with our natural sleep rhythms. Between work demands, family commitments, and social engagements, our sleep schedule can often veer off course. However, there are ways to work with your body's internal clock and ensure you're operating at your best.
1. Managing Sleep Debt: While we can't always control our wake hours, we can prioritize getting enough sleep to prevent sleep debt. Staying caught up on sleep cushions the impact of occasional late nights or early mornings.
2. Prioritize Sleep: Plan your day to ensure you're getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights. Treating sleep as a priority supports your natural rhythms and boosts overall well-being. Avoid eating and engaging in physical activities close to bedtime, especially within two hours of sleep.
3. Time Your Tasks: Organize your schedule to tackle challenging tasks and meetings during your peak alertness hours. This strategic approach maximizes your productivity and efficiency.
4. Get Moving: Regular physical activity or exercise can help balance your circadian rhythms. Outdoor activities, in particular, can align your body with natural light cues; spend time outside in the morning to soak up natural sunlight. If that's not possible, position yourself near a window for your morning routine.
5. Maintain Consistency: Consistency is key. Stick to a regular sleep schedule even on weekends; this practice reinforces your body's internal clock and ensures it runs smoothly. If you've traveled across time zones or experience short-term insomnia, consider melatonin supplements to help regulate sleep patterns. Remember – they should be used under professional guidance.
Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm contributes to your overall health and productivity. By syncing your lifestyle with your body's natural clock, you'll find yourself thriving, feeling more energized, and staying on top of your game. Remember, your body's rhythm is like a symphony; keeping it in tune ensures harmony in your daily life.