Did you know that a regulated circadian rhythm goes a long way to help you feel younger and live a longer, happier life? Turn back the hands of time and learn how to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
What’s the definition of circadian rhythm?
So, what is circadian rhythm? To put it simply, the word circadian comes from Latin. The word “circa” means “around” and the word “dies”means day. It literally means “around a day” and refers to the cycles or rhythms in our bodies (physiological, biochemical, and behavioral cycles) that revolve around a 24-hour period.
Roughly 20 000 nerve cells make up the master clock part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. It’s controlled by a part of our brain called the hypothalamus and receives direct input from the eyes that registers light and dark. So although natural factors within our bodies produce these rhythms, they are influenced by outside factors within our environments.
The most well-known cycle — sleeping during the night and being awake during the day — is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm and is known as the sleep-wake cycle. Other examples of daily rhythms include variations in body temperature and hormonal cycles.
All the cycles in the human body are synchronized and influenced by each other which is why hormones can disrupt sleep, and why continuously disrupted sleep can wreak havoc with your hormones, increase stress levels, and influence all other processes in your body.
To find out more about how stress can cause early aging, read: The Three Factors That Cause Premature Aging.
How does circadian rhythm affect the sleep-wake cycle?
As it starts growing darker outside our eyes send signals to the brain to tell the body it’s time to slow down and to get ready to rest. In response, the brain then sends signals to the body to release melatonin (the hormone that helps us sleep). As a result, we start to feel drowsy and ready for a good night’s rest.
As we sleep, the body continues to produce melatonin throughout the night with the highest levels being between 2 and 4 in the morning. As dawn begins to break, levels of melatonin start to drop (in response to light) and eventually stop. But, at the same time, the body begins to produce cortisol that activates the body and helps us to wake up.
Because the sleep-cycle is influenced by the internal biological clock that’s in tune with light and dark, any disruption in the stimulus of light or in the natural cycle can disrupt or even change the circadian rhythm. This is why night-shift workers may struggle to sleep deeply during the day and feel sleepy at night.
What disrupts the circadian rhythm?
Anything that interrupts your usual sleep cycle can affect your circadian rhythm. This includes:
Why is a disrupted circadian rhythm bad for your health?
Your circadian rhythm regulates thousands of genes throughout the brain and the body. It is responsible for the timing and coordination of all processes including metabolism, immune function, and DNA repair. Recent studies have revealed that these genes are rhythmically expressed throughout the brain and play critical roles in the regulation of normal processes.
The odd bad night is one thing, but ongoing disrupted circadian rhythm and being deprived of sleep, as a result, can put your health at risk. In fact, many studies have found a direct correlation between an abnormal circadian rhythm and neurodegenerative and sleep disorders. New clinical trials are also indicating that dysfunction in this cycle can influence aging and diseases associated with aging.
All-in-all, disruptions in this system link to a wide range of health implications, including:
Age-related cognitive deficits including Alzheimer's disease
What happens to the circadian rhythm with age and how does it link to longevity?
Aging affects all aspects of our lives, including circadian rhythm. As a result, older individuals sleep for fewer hours. They tend to fall asleep early in the evening and wake up fairly early. They may also notice a decline in cognitive function during the evenings.
Although the processes to aging are not yet well understood, studies have shown that the circadian rhythm influences aging and longevity in important ways. A disrupted circadian rhythm has been linked to many of the chronic conditions that are associated with aging and will therefore negatively affect your health and life span.
A review of the literature found a possible connection between sirtuins, melatonin, and circadian rhythm and that these three may play an important role in aging and the formation of cancer. Interestingly, Sirt 1 was found to be linked to the regulation of a core set of circadian genes and that the cyclical synthesis NAD+ in our cells potentially integrates the circadian clock with metabolism and therefore plays an important role in circadian rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle.
Sirtuins are special proteins that play a key role in longevity. To find out more, read: How Sirtuins and NAD+ Influence Longevity.
But, disrupted circadian rhythm and aging does not have to be a one-way street. There are ways to counter these age-related rhythm changes. For older adults, it is particularly important to maintain a constant sleep schedule by going to bed and waking the same time daily. It’s also very important to support your body with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
How to reset your sleep cycle
In a perfect world, we’ll all go to sleep and wake up within half an hour of the same time every day, even on weekends. But, the reality is: life happens and it’s not always possible to have a regular sleep schedule.
The good news is, whether it’s dealing with jet lag or shift work you can reset your sleep cycle to get better rest and even more of it.
Follow these simple easy steps and good practices.
Exercise daily - if possible, outside
Elevating your heart during the day encourages your body to rest at night. Exercise improves circulation and increased oxygen to our bodies and brains.
It also helps you reduce stress levels by giving a physical outlet for the energy that comes from the “fight or flight” response.
Exercising outside will also help your body register that it’s daytime which will assist the sleep-wake cycle.
Reduce your screen time at night
Any amount of light—be it natural or electronic—signals to our brain that it’s time to be active and alert. The blue light (light that comes from electronics and energy-efficient light bulbs) has a powerful effect on our “master clock.” To get a good night's sleep, turn off your cellphone, TV, and unplug all screens at least an hour before bed. If you have to work at night, activate the night light setting on your device. You can also invest in blue-blocker glasses.
Remember to turn off hallway lights, face your alarm clock away from you, and if you’re bothered by light from a source outside your home, make use of blackout curtains or a sleep mask.
Shift workers can make use of glasses that block blue light during their daytime drive home to aid their brain into thinking it’s night time.
Keep naps to 20 minutes
Over a 24-hour sleep cycle, we tend to have a period of sleepiness in the early afternoon, also known as the “afternoon crash” or mid-afternoon slump. Although people tend to think it could be because of heat or a heavy lunch, it’s actually part of our circadian rhythm. Having a short nap in the early afternoon can be beneficial but keep it to 20 minutes so that it does not disrupt your sleep cycle in the evening.
Taking an afternoon nap is one of the habits of populations who live in the Blue Zones. Find out more about their lifestyle in Lessons From The Blue Zones - Feel Younger for Longer.
Don’t just lie there all night
If you find yourself awake and staring at the ceiling or watching the alarm clock, get up and try to do something relaxing. Staying in bed while not being able to sleep might train your brain to be active at night.
You could stretch gently while breathing deeply, read a book that’s not too demanding, or even meditate or pray for a short while. Some other ideas, that might help are:
If you find yourself running through a “to-do” list for the next day, write down the list so that it’s off your mind.
Some people find it useful to place an imaginary “worry bucket” next to their bed. When they start worrying about something, they place it in the bucket and tell themselves that they’ll pick it up again in the morning. It might even help to write it down on a piece of paper and place it in an actual container of some sort.
Keep a journal next to your bed and write down all the thoughts that are running through your mind, no matter what they are. Writing down thoughts sometimes helps to get them off your mind.
Have a constant start to your day
The time that you fall asleep may sometimes be out of your control but you can choose when you are going to start your day. Having a routine sets your body’s tone for the entire day so practice waking up at the same time as much as possible.
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the afternoon and at night
We all know that coffee gives us a much-needed boost to our mornings and helps us get through the afternoon slump. But, coffee or caffeine too late in the afternoon can disrupt our sleep. A study found that caffeine can possibly delay your circadian clock by about 40 minutes. And, another study found that caffeine taken 6 hours before sleep could still cause disruption to sleep.
To make sure that your body has processed the caffeine, try to have your last cup at least 8 hours before bed or choose decaffeinated options for the afternoon.
If you are needing energy, try our NMN supplement that boosts NAD+ levels—giving you energy from deep within, without the caffeine crash.
Establish a good sleep routine
Our bodies love routine and establishing a good sleep routine goes a long way in helping you get a good night’s rest filled with high-quality sleep. Here are some tips:
Filter out noise and quieten your environment. If you stay in a busy city, find a relaxing background sound online to help you fall asleep.
Keep your room cool, the best temperature for a good night's sleep is 20℃.
Practice meditation or pray before bed. There are many apps that can
Establish a set pattern that gets your mind ready for sleep and your body in a relaxed state. This could be having a long bath or reading in bed, or even sitting in front of the fire with the lights dimmed.
Try this Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) from The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals - NHS Foundation Trust. Please be sure to read the information about the video before proceeding.
In conjunction with exercise, it’s also important to eat a healthy diet that has protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fruit and vegetables. You can also support your body by supplementing with NMN. As mentioned, NAD+ plays an important role in regulating circadian rhythm, and supplementing with NMN will boost your NAD+ levels, increasing your energy plus helping you regulate your circadian rhythms.
To find out more about, read NMN: Your Secret Weapon to Staying Youthful
Abnormal circadian rhythms have been linked to various chronic conditions related to aging: including obesity, sleep disorders, depression, diabetes, and seasonal affective disorder.
However, by establishing a good sleep routine and implementing a healthy diet and exercise, it is possible to regulate your circadian rhythms which will help slow the deterioration that can come with disrupted sleep and age, making you feel younger for longer.
To find out more about Youth & Earth products that are designed to revitalize your body and spirit, head over to our products page.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or health provider before starting a new health regime or program. Do not ignore medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you’ve read on this site or any Youth & Earth product.