Honoring Your Natural Rhythm
Our bodies crave healthy routine, and many systems in our body operate on a 24-hour clock, called the Circadian Rhythm. These 24-hour rhythms are present in humans, plants, animals, and even microbes. Most people detect a problem with their circadian rhythm when their sleep cycle is out-of-whack, such as during episodes of insomnia or jet lag. Our circadian rhythm not only governs our sleep, but also our digestion, our hormone production, our appetite, and our mood.
When a client presents in my office with symptoms of a mood disorder, one of the first questions I ask them is about their sleep. Then I probe further about other aspects of their daily routine, how consistent it is, the quality of that routine. I hope to learn whether their routine honors this innate 24-hour circadian rhythm. Disruptions to circadian rhythm are linked to mood disorders, obesity, cancer, and many other health problems. More often than not, clients reveal lifestyles that are an insult to their body's natural rhythm.
Rather than wax eloquent on circadian rhythms, I'll typically give clients targeted suggestions about behavior changes which would encourage a more rhythm-honoring lifestyle. A few suggestions come up with great frequency, so I decided to put together my list of the top 5 ways to honor circadian rhythm (not because I particularly prefer these suggestions, just because they seem to be needed most often).
Light Matters Aim for 30 minutes of sunlight a day, bright light in the morning, and dim lights as bedtime approaches. Light sends strong signals to the body that drive Circadian Rhythm.
Consistency of Bedtime and Wake-Up Time Going to sleep and waking at the same time each day are important to the quality of sleep. Wild fluctuations in schedule reduce sleep quality - so even if you achieve the recommended 8 hour duration, if its happening at inconsistent times, your body may not experience as much of the high quality deep sleep it requires.
Nicotine and Caffeine Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants that disrupt sleep. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bed. Quit smoking.
Bedtime Ritual Schedule those relaxing, self-care habits to occur before bed. Unwinding primes your body for higher quality sleep.
Naps Take them before 3pm. 20 minutes is a good length for maximum refreshment, that won't disrupt the circadian rhythm the way a longer nap can.
Honoring your body's natural internal clock requires tuning inward, and cultivating a kind relationship to yourself - its a great way to love yourself well. People who jerk their bodies around and deprioritize basics like sleep - they often don't have the greatest relationship with themselves. I frequently see anecdotal correlations between people who insult their body clocks - and people who are also hard on themselves emotionally and mentally. I also have seen many people begin to love themselves better by honoring their bodies, rather than offending them. Honoring our circadian rhythm can be a great place to start some whole-person healing.