Circadian Rhythm: Why it’s Important to Your Mental Health

Everyone knows how important it is to take care of yourself, but people usually put emphasis on physical health. You’ve likely seen plenty of ads discussing the benefits of working out regularly and eating right. And while that’s important, mental health is equally important for a healthy, happy life.

What is mental health? Mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It encompasses everything from the way we think and feel to the actions we take because of our emotions. People talk more about self-care now than they once did, but it goes far beyond face masks and movie nights- (not that those aren’t fun).

To truly take care of your mental health, however, there are several factors to consider and things you should do or avoid on a daily basis. For example, sticking to a normal circadian rhythm is vitally important to maintaining mental health.

What is Circadian Rhythm?

Circadian rhythm is basically your daily internal clock, or your sleep-wake cycles. It operates in the background and plays a huge part in your life. Your circadian rhythm greatly affects your energy levels. When you are on a steady and consistent pattern, waking up at the same time every day and going to sleep at the same time every night, you’ll flow naturally with your internal clock.

This will help you feel alert and energized at the same time every day. You’ll also feel the need to turn in, feeling your energy and focus drop, at the same time every night. If outside sources interrupt your circadian rhythm, you’ll notice larger dips of energy and a change in your mood and emotions. Over time, this can greatly affect your mental health.

what is circadian rhythm

Why is Keeping Your Circadian Rhythm Uninterrupted so Important?

You’ve probably heard how important a good night’s sleep is several times throughout your life. Doctors and scientists both agree that it’s vital for your mental and physical health. What many don’t know, though, is that it’s not only the amount of sleep that you get that’s important, but also when you sleep. Sleeping at the same time every night and waking at the same time every day will keep your circadian rhythm consistent. A regular full night’s sleep will provide you with numerous health benefits, both mental and physical.

“It’s widely known that a good night’s sleep is a good thing for well-being and health. That’s not a big surprise,” said Dr Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the University of Glasgow and a leading author on the study. “But I think what’s less well-known and what comes out of this work is that not only is a good night’s sleep important, but having a regular rhythm of being active in daylight and inactive in darkness over time is important for mental well-being.”

Don’t Fall into Old Circadian Rhythm Habits on the Weekend

For optimal results, it’s best to continue this on the weekend, or your days off, and not just on the days you go to work. A study that was published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry looked into the benefits of maintaining a circadian rhythm and the health issues that could arise when that rhythm is disturbed. The study showed that those who endured disruptions to their circadian rhythm were significantly more likely to have symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder or major depression.

What Occurs When Your Circadian Rhythm is Disrupted?

woman in bed in dark room looking at illuminated alarm clock on side table

Your circadian rhythm is controlled by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus, which helps keep your sleeping patterns, waking patterns, digestive systems, and hormones functioning properly. When your circadian rhythm is out of whack, you’ll know it. You won’t feel quite like yourself. You’ll suffer from lack of energy, you might find it hard to focus, and you’ll feel physically ill. Over time, if the issue isn’t resolved, you could suffer from an increased risk of cardiovascular events, obesity, bipolar disorder, and even depression.

How Does Your Circadian Rhythm Get Thrown Off?

There are several things that can affect your circadian rhythm. It’s important that you know these culprits and take measures to help prevent changes in your natural circadian rhythm.

Jet Lag

Jet lag is a common cause of circadian rhythm disruption. Your internal clock is stuck in one time zone while your body is transported to another. Your internal clock doesn’t change when your smartphone clock does, and this can greatly affect and disrupt your sleeping patterns.

Shift Work

People who work on the night shift go against their natural circadian rhythm on a daily basis. Even if they go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and night, they are sleeping when they should be awake and are awake when they should be asleep.

Because the human body functions best when asleep at night, staying up throughout it and going to bed in the morning or afternoon greatly messes with the natural order of things. After a while, your mind starts to suffer. One study compared night shift nurses with those who worked the day shift and found that the shift-work nurses reported significantly higher obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, and paranoid ideation.

Sleeping in on the Weekends

Consistency is key when it comes to maintaining circadian rhythm. Rising at nine instead of eight might not throw your rhythm off too much, but if you stay up late hanging out with friends on Friday night and then sleep until 11 or noon the next day, you will disrupt your rhythm more than you might think.

Your body will not immediately adjust to this change, and you’ll find that you don’t have the same amount of energy or focus that you’re accustomed to. You might also feel a little “off” on Saturday and find yourself more irritable and sluggish. It could even pose a threat to your health, according to The American Heart Association.

Lighting

Lighting plays a vital role in maintaining your circadian rhythm. Before the invention of the light bulb, people judged the time of day by the sun. Their daily chores and activities were influenced mostly by the rise and fall of the sun, and they spent their evenings in complete darkness, with nothing but candles, lanterns, or firelight to disrupt the black of night.

Things have changed drastically over the years, and now we find ourselves with an abundance of lighting options and technology that allows us to stimulate our brains and operate well into the night. This might sound appealing if you have a ton of homework or deadlines to meet, but it’s very disruptive to your circadian rhythm and can result in major consequences later.

Even if you’re not staying up into the wee hours of the night, the type of lighting you surround yourself with could also play a large role in disrupting your circadian rhythm and wreaking havoc on your mental and physical health over time.

Lighting and Circadian Rhythm

Working in an office that constantly exposes you to harsh fluorescent lighting can significantly disrupt your circadian rhythm. Fluorescent bulbs do not produce the same type of light the sun provides. Where the sun provides us with a full spectrum of light, fluorescent lights produce a limited color spectrum.

Blue light also plays a large part in circadian rhythm. During the day, blue light wakes us up and stimulates us, but too much exposure at night can suppress the secretion of melatonin and make it difficult to get to sleep. Blue light exposure should be limited to two to three hours before you go to bed.

 

The Dangers of Over-Exposure

Exposure to blue lighting for six and a half hours can disrupt your circadian rhythm by as much as three hours. Prolonged nightly exposure, and the inevitable disruption in your circadian rhythm that result, can cause cardiovascular problems, issues with your metabolism and immune system, a worsening mood, compromised cognitive function, and depression.

What Changes Can You Make?

It’s important to do whatever you can to keep your circadian rhythm undisrupted. This will help stave off anxiety, depression, and a host of physical ailments. But what changes can you make in your daily routine to ensure you’re asleep when you should be asleep and awake when you should be awake?

1. Adjust Your Bedtime, but Be Patient

If you’re used to staying up too late, you’ll need to teach your body to go to sleep earlier. This must be done over time. Staying up an hour later is much easier than going to bed an hour earlier. So, be patient with yourself and try to adjust your routine in thirty-minute increments.

2. Don’t Nap

Napping can greatly interfere with your ability to sleep at night. If you’re aiming to get to bed at a normal hour, taking a nap during the day, no matter how tired you are, could greatly destroy your chances.

3. Get Up at the Same Time Every Day

It’s important that you create and maintain a schedule. Your circadian clock is a 24-hour clock, so sleeping in could greatly disrupt it. As much as you may want to hit snooze on the weekends, don’t.

4. Wake Up to Sunlight

If you wake up and your room is dark because of thick curtains, your body will receive mixed signals. Your body craves the light of the sun and is naturally programmed to wake, feeling energized, with it. Before you go to sleep at night, open your blinds or curtains enough to let some natural light in in the morning.

5. Avoid Technology Before Bed

Tablets and smartphones produce artificial light and stimulate your brain too much to be conducive to proper sleep. Instead, create a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or play some relaxing music. Your bedroom shouldn’t be too warm, and it should be dark.

6. Limit Your Exposure to Fluorescent Lights During the Day

As we said previously, limited-spectrum fluorescent lighting can suppress melatonin and will make your struggle to get to sleep at the right hour even harder.

 

Taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, should always be a priority. Ensuring that you’re in sync with your circadian clock and that it doesn’t become disrupted is a vital way to do that. To help minimize your exposure to melatonin-reducing light, we invite you to take a look at our natural light covers for fluorescent lights. We would love to play a part in helping you get your circadian rhythm back on track!

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