Circadian Rhythms: How To Find Your Sleep Groove

You’ve probably heard of circadian rhythms but what exactly are they and how do they help us sleep?

Circadian Rhythms: How To Find Your Sleep Groove

They might sound like the name of a dodgy 1990s boy band, but circadian rhythms form the structure of our sleep. “Circadian rhythms are biological rhythms [in our bodies] that repeat approximately every 24 hours are known as,” says NEOM’s expert Sleep Consultant, Nick Witton. “The circadian system sends an alerting signal to the body during the day and a sleeping signal during the night, promoting a consolidated night of sleep.”

In short, circadian rhythms are our day and night internal body clocks, telling us when to be awake and when to be asleep. However, what should be a natural process isn’t always straightforward in today’s world. “People in the modern, industrialised society spend up to 90% of their time indoors,” says Nick. Without enough exposure to daylight our internal body clocks miss important cues when to be ‘on’ and ‘off’ – which can lead to negatively affecting our sleep.

Circadian rhythms can affect our mood as well; several studies have found that habitual disruption of circadian rhythms is related to mental health issues and that depression has a stronger association with interrupted sleep than actual sleep deprivation. So what can we do to get back into our natural sleep groove and feel our best? Here are four things to help your circadian rhythm...

1. Try waking up at the same time (even at weekends)

Rising at the same time every day, or as close to it as possible, is “one of the most powerful anchors to keep our circadian rhythm functioning regularly,” says Nick. Trying to catch up on missed sleep at the weekends can have the opposite effect and put our circadian rhythms out of whack, leading to something called ‘social jetlag’. You’re not alone, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the global population suffer from social jetlag. A weekend’s worth of social jet lag is equivalent to flying from Paris to New York on Friday and then flying back on Monday – without any of the fun bits!

2. Work near a window

Even if you work indoors you can get a daylight fix. One study showed that office workers sitting close to windows exhibited more activity overall and slept, on average, 46 minutes longer at night than colleagues who worked in windowless offices. For a double energy and mood booster, go out for a walk. “Daytime light exposure can help to improve mood by correcting abnormal circadian timing relative to sleep/wake behaviour,” says Nick.

3. Get into a consistent routine

“Try to eat and exercise at roughly the same times every day,” Nick advises. This is particularly important he says, if your schedule doesn’t permit you to get a sufficient amount of sleep. “Keeping your other routines consistent offers a cue for your circadian rhythm to stay on track.”

4. Move in the mornings

Studies have show that aerobic exercise in the morning or afternoon stimulates earlier melatonin release and shifts the circadian rhythm. “For people who exercise outdoors, morning exercise may have the added benefit of exposure to sunlight,” Nick adds. “This helps entrain circadian rhythms and makes it easier to fall asleep early.”