How To Embrace Your Circadian Rhythm This Winter — And Reap Multiple Health Benefits

Tips on getting in sync with your internal clock for increased energy and immunity 

 

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping at night, or waking up in the morning feeling tired, you may be out of sync with your internal clock. Everyone has one: Regulated by a group of cells in your brain, that clock, also called a circadian rhythm, manages your energy levels throughout the day with a slew of hormones. 

You know how you try to sleep in on the weekend, but you wake up at the same time you roll out of bed on weekdays? That’s your circadian rhythm speaking. If you fight against it by, say, refusing to sleep when your body’s begging you to rest up, you’ll run into some issues getting quality sleep in general. By default, your immunity, energy levels, and other aspects of your health will suffer. 

“Quality sleep is a priority and should be considered as a pillar of health and well-being, on par with good nutrition and physical exercise,” says Dr. Eve Van Cauter, who serves on the chair of Sleep Number’s Scientific Advisory Board. “Most relevant to the current pandemic, there is strong scientific evidence indicating that insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality have an adverse effect on the immune system and may make you more susceptible to viral infection.” 

Luckily, it’s 2020, so there’s some helpful technology out there to help you get in touch with your circadian rhythm! Sleep Number’s 360 smart beds have built-in SleepIQ technology that can determine your ideal bedtime and wake time, based on your individual internal clock. Customers who used this special circadian rhythm feature reported improving their bedtime and wake time consistency by 35 minutes.* 

Beyond this handy feature, read on for other steps you can take in your day to stay in touch with your internal clock — and in turn, live a healthier lifestyle. 

SET THAT SLEEP SCHEDULE 

The pandemic has upended our normal routines and made it more difficult to maintain a normal sleep schedule. But going to bed and waking up at the same time is key to staying in sync with your circadian rhythm.  

“Under normal life conditions, it is better to be able to wake up without an alarm clock,” Van Cauter says. “But in the condition of social isolation when there is a risk of drifting to waking up later and later, it may be good to set a wake up time.” 

She adds: “Set up your sleep-wake cycle, stay disciplined and keep to your schedule. Plan the day, and be careful not to let the evening drag on until wee hours.”

TUNE INTO THE SEASONS 

Furthermore, your internal clock is drastically impacted by changes in seasons. Why? Mostly because of light. 

When you’re exposed to light during the day, your body suppresses the release of melatonin, an important sleep hormone, which doesn’t usually come out during the darker, nighttime hours.

That’s why, in the summer, humans are more likely to have later bedtimes because longer days shift your biological clock. 

In the winter, when the days get shorter and darker (depending on where you live, of course), there’s less distinction between day and night, which can trip your body up and lead it to produce more melatonin. All this knowledge is important for understanding shifts in your own internal clock. 

More below on how you can use light to your own benefit…

MANAGE YOUR DAYTIME LIGHT EXPOSURE 

Before electric lights, the humans lived in sync with the natural world, working during the day when the sun was up and sleeping as the sun set at night. But today, especially during winter and amid stay-at-home orders, people go about most of their days in artificial light. 

Maximizing the natural light you get, and cutting down on your exposure to artificial light, will help make sure you’re keeping up with your circadian rhythm. It starts with being intentional — especially first thing in the morning and at bedtime. 

In the morning, if you can, you should take some time to expose yourself to 15-20 minutes of full sun. If you can’t get that naturally, invest in a sleep therapy wake-up light. Then in the middle of the day, if you take a lunch break, go outside for some more light exposure! (And maybe get some light exercise in as well.)

DIM THE LIGHTS AT NIGHT 

As evening hits, try to get away from blue light by switching your electronic devices to night mode or by wearing these blue-light-blocking glasses. Then, around one hour before bedtime, start dimming the lights around you to signal to your body that bedtime is coming. 

Once you’re asleep, if you by chance wake up in the middle of the night, don’t grab your phone and use it as a light — it will negatively impact any sleeping hormones your body is producing. Invest in some low lights for your bedroom you can turn on instead. 


*Based on SleepIQ® data from 6/9/20 to 8/15/20 of sleepers who viewed the circadian rhythm feature vs. those who did not, with sleep timing capturing bedtime and wake time consistency.