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What is a circadian rhythm? How you can read your body to help you sleep better.

Did you know that your body has its own internal body clocks which govern your daily cycles, including when you sleep?

These cycles are known as circadian rhythms and are present in most living things, from animals to plants and. They are mainly affected by changes in light, which is why a lot of our internal rhythms last roughly 24 hours.

It is a circadian rhythm that affects when we want to go to sleep by controlling levels of melatonin in our bodies – a hormone which causes drowsiness and lowers our internal temperature - helping us to drift off into a deep sleep. Put simply, more melatonin is produced when light levels are lower, making us sleepy and they drop when light levels increase to improve alertness.

Most people feel at their sleepiest during the early hours of the morning (e.g. between 2 am and 4 am) and after lunch, however, this varies for every individual leading to us to categorise people as either Night Owls (sleep and wake up late) or Morning Larks (sleep and wake up early). Circadian rhythms can also change as you age; adults tend to wake up earlier, whereas teenagers tend to be Night Owls and sleep longer.

Obviously, modern life has gotten in the way of some of us being able to ‘obey’ our natural circadian rhythms, for example, night shift workers or international travellers who constantly battle with jet lag. Whilst our rhythms can adapt (for example, when the clocks go back), prolonged periods of disruption can have an impact on our health - both in the short and long term.

As we know the benefits of a great night’s sleep, it’s important we pay attention to and care for our sleep/wake cycles. Follow these useful tips to help you to keep your circadian rhythms functioning as they should:

  1. Be consistent – waking up at the same time daily or going to bed at a similar time every night will keep your cycle running smoothly. Where possible, try to keep the same routine at the weekend too.
  2. Get light exposure in the morning – this can help to further reduce your melatonin levels to lessen drowsiness and get you feeling wide awake and ready to tackle another day. If you don’t have time, just make sure you open your curtains or switch on a blue light to simulate daylight.
  3. Avoid technology at night – modern life means we are always glued to our phones or the television, however, this has a negative impact on our ability to sleep. The blue light emitted from electronic devices mimics daylight, suppressing melatonin production and therefore preventing you from feeling sleepy. Switch off devices and dim your lights a few hours before you plan to sleep.
  4. Avoid oversleeping when jet-lagged – if you have come off of a long haul flight, the desire to nap even if it is daytime in your destination can be overwhelming, but it may not be the best thing for your body. Try to stay awake until evening time to help give your internal rhythms a jump start, allowing you to adjust to the new time zone much faster.

Understanding your personal circadian rhythm is key to getting the right amount of sleep at the right time, so make sure you listen to your internal clocks to get the rest you deserve!

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