Are you struggling with circadian misalignment?
Are you tired of feeling tired all the damn time?
If you know you’re not getting enough sleep, the solution’s pretty obvious: Get more sleep.
But what if you’re regularly snoozing for eight hours at a time and still feel out of kilter?
The cause may be circadian misalignment.
Sleep has been an important part of our focus on wellbeing since, well, the dawn of time. We’ve always needed to sleep.
But after the trend of clean sleeping and loads of brands promoting sleep sprays, sleep-friendly clocks, and tech bans in the bedroom, this year’s take on sleep will be all about circadian health, according to The Global Wellness Summit’s 2020 Future of Wellness report.
What exactly is circadian health? Glad you asked, imaginary reader.
The circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of human beings – it regulates when we sleep and wake, our moods, our immune, metabolic, and reproductive systems, and our productivity and energy levels throughout the day.
The basic idea is that we have a body clock that lines up to the earth’s regular cycles of light and dark, which provide certain cues to what we should be doing at certain times.
We need to do different things when it is light compared to when it is dark. The body clock anticipates these changes in the outer world and then gets the body ready to be able to respond appropriately.
When our lifestyles don’t line up with that internal clock, circadian misalignment occurs.
Dr Katharina Lederle, a sleep and circadian rhythm specialist, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Circadian misalignment results from a mismatch between the internal clock and the external world, as well as changing sleep times during the week and the weekend.’
So let’s say, for example, that you’re on a working shift pattern that requires you to be at your desk before sunrise.
That will mean that your body and mind isn’t properly prepared and equipped to perform to its full potential.
Or say your office doesn’t have windows, allowing you to come in contact with little natural daylight throughout the day – your body never receives a proper cue to wake up.
The same goes for if you like to change up your routine, such as getting up early during the week then lying in until 2pm at the weekends – you’re not giving those clear light-based signals to your body, meaning you’re in a state of flux, your activities never properly syncing up with your body’s ideal schedule.
‘Light perceived by special photoreceptors in the eyes tells the clock it is daytime, while darkness does the opposite,’ explains Katherine.
‘Exposing yourself to light and dark at regular times each day will help to keep the clock aligned with the external world and keep the different processes inside the body aligned. And that will support good health and wellbeing, as well as your productivity at work.
‘But this is where the problem starts. Due to daily commitments such as work, we tend to sleep at times that are different to the sleep window set by our body clock during which we have the most efficient sleep.
‘Also, because we are spending so much time indoors where light levels are much lower compared to outside, our body clock is often not sure what time of day it is and how it should prepare the body.
‘Constantly overriding the rhythms set by the clock, causes a circadian misalignment. This, in addition to inadequate sleep, will lead to health and performance impairments.’
More research is needed into the longterm effects of how our modern lifestyles and a constant state of circadian misalignment is affecting us.
But we do know some of the more immediate outcomes.
Katherine says: ‘Symptoms of Social Jet Lag, a term that refers to the difference in our sleep times between week nights and the weekend include sleep problems, higher incidence of depression and other mood disorders, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, risk of cancer, poorer performance and an increase in alcohol and caffeine consumption. ‘
Brands are hopping on this concern to sell lights that mimic daylight and other tools to trick the body into thinking it’s back on track.
But realistically, making changes to our lifestyles should be the first port of call.
Unfortunately, few workplaces will allow you to change your start times to work around circadian rhythms (perhaps that’ll change in the future).
If you are feeling a circadian misalignment, the pressure’s on you to at least add some regularity to your personal clock.
Thankfully, most of the changes that may help are pretty easy to implement.
‘To fix this mismatch, you need to either sleep during your personal biological night (as set by your body clock) or shift the setting of your clock somewhat by adjusting your lifestyle,’ says Katharina.
‘Develop a regular light-dark cycle. Expose yourself to daylight particularly in the morning. Reduce your exposure to bright as well as blue light in the evenings. Go to sleep and get up around the same times during the week and on the weekend.
‘Other lifestyle habits to consider are: Set regular mealtimes, with the last meal finishing in the early evening. Make exercise a regular part of your lifestyle, avoid it in the last few hours before going to bed though. Consuming caffeine is fine, just keep it to a moderate amount and don’t have any after 3pm.
‘We can help to keep ourselves synchronised by adopting routines such as having regular mealtimes during daylight hours only and exercising or having stress-reducing massages on a regular basis. Even social interaction may help to keep things aligned.’
Stress reduction is key for a whole host of reasons, not least because it’s tricky to get a decent amount of snoozetime if you’re tossing and turning.
Elliot Walker, co-founder of The Massage Company, recommends stress-reduction massages. Obviously.
‘The Global Wellness Trends 2020 report identifies a focus on circadian rhythms rather than generic sleep products,’ he explains. ‘However, the effects of stress and anxiety are known to sometimes hamper synchronisation with the rhythm of alertness.
‘Regular massage has proven to be beneficial in significantly reducing anxiety levels so may play an active role then, in enabling us to prepare for living in sync with our body clock again’.
In short: Get your sleep schedule as regular and as close to the body’s natural waking hours – so awake when it’s light, asleep or resting when it’s dark – as possible.
Track your alertness and productivity and try to tie the times when you need to get sh*t done to the periods you naturally feel most productive.
And reduce stress any way that works for you, whether that’s massage, watching Love Island (although it’s on a bit past your bedtime, we must say), exercising, or reading a great book. You’ll be feeling more in tune with your body clock in no time.
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