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Circadian Rhythm: Your Guide to Sleep, Seasons and Life Stages 

Your Wellbeing

Circadian Rhythm: Your Guide to Sleep, Seasons and Life Stages 

Explore the secrets of your body's internal clock. Discover more about circadian rhythms and how best to support yours. 

What is a Circadian Rhythm?

A circadian rhythm is your sleep-wake cycle. A bit like a naturally built-in clock through a 24-hour cycle, it’s responsible for deciding when you feel awake and alert and when you’re ready for sleep. This intricate timekeeper orchestrates our sleep-wake cycle by influencing our energy levels, mood, and overall wellbeing. As we journey through life, these rhythms ebb and flow, responding not only to our internal cues but also to the changing seasons. 

How Does Our Circadian Rhythm Work?

This internal rhythm lies in the cells that make up our body and is influenced by external factors like light and darkness. It uses these to govern patterns such as sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, and even digestion. External cues, such as light levels, tell your brain whether you should be asleep or awake. Essentially, it's your body's way of staying in sync with the natural day-night cycle, helping you function at your best throughout the day.

It Comes With Age

Age has a significant impact on our circadian rhythm, causing notable shifts in different life stages. Hormones within the body can affect your circadian rhythm.

So how does this play out?

Tired Teens

Teenagers are often depicted as tired, sluggish, and inclined to sleep through the day. But this is because, during the teenage years, there's a well-known alteration in sleep patterns. Adolescents often experience a delay in their circadian rhythm, hence the need for later bedtimes and waking up later in the morning.

Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist, said, 

“asking your teenage son or daughter to go to bed and fall asleep at ten p.m. is the circadian equivalent of asking you, their parent, to go to sleep at seven or eight p.m. No matter how loud you enunciate the order, no matter how much that teenager truly wishes to obey your instruction, and no matter what amount of willed effort is applied by either of the two parties, the circadian rhythm of a teenager will not be miraculously coaxed into a change.”

― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Cooling Breath - Sitali

Later Life

But our teens aren’t the only notable time that sends our circadian rhythm into flux. Fast-forward to a different life stage, menopause, and you may hit another significant shift. Fluctuations in hormones, particularly estrogen, can disrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to sleep disturbances such as insomnia or increased awakenings at night. 

Body temperature can also affect your sleep-wake cycle, as your temperature drops when you sleep and rises when you’re awake, so any change in body temperature at night could impact your sleep-wake cycle. Women experiencing menopause may struggle with maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, often experiencing changes in sleep quality and duration.

Navigating Seasonal Shifts

And, because your body is so finely tuned and sensitive to change, even subtle changes in light, temperature, and environment that each season brings can have an effect. The transition between seasons can pose unique challenges to our circadian rhythms. Shorter days in winter can mean we need more sleep at night, and longer, sunnier evenings in summer can lead to later bedtimes and earlier mornings.

How To Support Your Circadian Rhythm

There are many ways we can help support our circadian rhythm, with no one size fits all. For example, if you do shift work, have a newborn baby, or work late evenings, you may find that your natural sleep-wake cycle changes. 

Here are some helpful ways you can support your natural rhythms. 

1. Limit Screen Time: Minimise your exposure to screens, especially before bedtime, as the blue light can disrupt your body's production of sleep-inducing hormones.

2. Establish a Routine: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, to regulate your body's internal clock. Try going to bed at the same time every night, and don’t hit snooze on your alarm. 

3. Look into the Light: Embrace the morning light and make it part of your routine. Take a stroll, savour a cup of tea under the rising sun, or simply sit in its glow for a few minutes. This exposure to natural light signals your body that it's time to wake up, helping to regulate your circadian rhythm.

4. Create a Calm Environment: Make your bedroom a place that helps you relax and promotes sleep by keeping it dark, quiet, and comfortable.

5. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate mindfulness, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation into your bedtime routine to signal to your body that it's time to unwind and switch off. 

6. Mindful Eating and Drinking: Avoid heavy meals and caffeine close to bedtime. Opt for light snacks if needed, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Sip on a soothing herbal tea before bed to help you slow down. 

7. Wash Away the Day: The physical act of cleansing away your day before bed can help you to relax. Why not add some soothing essential oils, such as lavender, to promote a sense of calm?

Understanding Your Body’s Signals

Listening to your body is a crucial step in learning and understanding the subtle cues it sends. Pay attention to how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day, how your mood shifts, and when you naturally feel more alert or tired. These insights can help you plan your day accordingly and tune into your body's natural rhythms.

Find out more about creating a healthy sleep routine on our Sleep Hub/Census

By understanding and respecting your body's natural rhythms, you can enjoy a better relationship with it and support it in taking the best care of yourself. 

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