5 Things You Didn't Realize Were Messing With Circadian Rhythm, From Sleep Experts
You probably have an idea of what the circadian rhythm is: It's your internal clock that determines when you wake up, when you go to sleep, and how your energy fluctuates throughout the day. And just as there are things you can do to support your body's clock, there are also certain things that mess with it.
Here's what messes with your circadian rhythm, plus how to get it in tiptop shape, according to experts:
Having an irregular sleep schedule.
Your body's clock loves consistency, and that includes your sleep schedule. If you're going to bed and waking up at different times every day, naturopathic sleep doctor Catherine Darley, N.D., previously told mbg, your circadian rhythm is going to suffer—and subsequently, your energy levels. "With an irregular sleep-wake schedule, people can have difficulty sleeping at night and troubles with alertness during the day," she explains.
Scrolling late at night.
Light during the day (and lack thereof at night) is arguably the most influential factor to your circadian rhythm. Natural light from the sun is picked up by the suprachiasmatic nucleus1 (SCN) in your brain, which essentially lets your body know it's daytime and you need to be alert, physician Eva Selhub, M.D., previously wrote for mbg. "As the light diminishes and then disappears, the clock signals the body that it is time to sleep," she adds.
So, when you're scrolling at your blue screen in bed late at night—or even have lights on, for that matter—the light is stimulating your eyes, and further, your circadian rhythm.
At one point or another, you've likely experienced the frustration of trying to fall asleep when stressed, so it may come as no surprise that stress isn't great for your circadian rhythm. As board-certified sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., previously told mbg, stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which then causes a release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Not only does cortisol keep us awake, but the circadian rhythm plays a hand in the release of hormones throughout the day, so elevated cortisol at the wrong times is going to throw off your body's schedule.
One 2020 study2 on stress and sleep, for example, found that bedtime stress leads to heightened pre-sleep arousal, affects sleep processes, and the following day, negatively affects "the deployment of attentional resources."
Lack of exercise.
Sleep and exercise have something called a bidirectional relationship3. Essentially, exercising improves sleep, and quality sleep improves your gym gains. But on the flip side, not exercising negatively affects sleep, and poor sleep negatively affects your workout.
As such, according to Selhub, lack of exercise isn't ideal for keeping your circadian rhythm happy. Our bodies need to expel a certain amount of energy during the day in order to be tired at night, and without a consistent movement routine, you're less likely to sleep well.
Eating large meals before bed.
And last but not least, if you're one for a large and late dinner, you might want to ditch that habit. Research out of Harvard has found we have a food-related clock that influences sleep and further, that fasting can even help you readjust your circadian rhythm when you're jet lagged.
Additional research suggests that eating larger meals earlier in the day, and avoiding larger meals late at night, can support your circadian rhythm4, as can eating at the same times every day.
What to do about it.
If you feel like your circadian rhythm has been wonky, and you're doing any (or all) of the five aforementioned things, that's where you'll want to start.
Have a consistent daily schedule, including when you wake up, go to sleep, exercise, and eat meals. On top of that, try to limit stress and lean into the impact of light, avoiding lights at night, but getting plenty of light during the day.
And if you still need an extra hand, you might want to consider a quality nonhormonal sleep supplement, such as mbg's sleep support+. The science-backed formula was designed to help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling rejuvenated, combining the relaxing effects of magnesium bisglycinate, PharmaGABA®, and jujube.* These powerful ingredients have been found to enhance sleep quality, as well as support a healthy circadian rhythm, and sleep support+ delivers them all in one supplement.*
The bottom line is, our circadian rhythm plays a huge role in our sleep quality, as well as how we feel overall throughout the day. You'd be amazed by the difference you'll feel when yours is on track, so be sure to ditch any of the habits that throw your circadian rhythm off, and lean into those habits that support it.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.