Achieving optimal sleep is one of the single most important things you can do for your health. And yet, the way we talk about sleep hasn’t changed in almost two decades. Now, new science on circadian rhythm, the waking and sleeping patterns we follow on a daily basis, is revolutionizing the way we think about sleep.
The three recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine won for discovering that not only do we have a clock which detects night and day in our brain, but we also have clocks on the molecular level, in each cell that synchronize and orchestrate the activity of every major organ system. Our molecular clocks need to keep the right time and be synchronized with each other for us to have great sleep (that quality REM you often hear about) and optimal health.
“Our body starts preparing for sleep a couple hours before it anticipates our bedtime.”
We erroneously think of sleep as something we do simply by hopping into bed and closing our eyes. The truth is that our body starts preparing for sleep a couple hours before it anticipates our bedtime, and likewise goes through a preparation stage to gently turn everything back on. Your body needs to start preparing to retire about 60 minutes before sleep and then preparing to rise about 90 minutes before waking. The result of honoring these preparatory phases is that you should fall asleep more naturally and wake more refreshed.
Aside from a bedtime routine that allows your mind and body to wind down, here are eight other things you can do to help reset and optimize your circadian rhythm:
Standardize wake/ sleep times
Try to go to bed and wake within an hour of the same time each day. When we surprise our circadian rhythm with random bedtimes and varying wake times, we skip the important preparatory phases for waking and sleeping. The result is insomnia at night and sleep hangovers in the morning. You can also eliminate “social jet lag,” experienced when you alter your schedule each weekend to stay up or sleep in later.
Bedtime and screen time don’t mix
If you stay up late in the glow of the blue light from your digital devices, these light signals are wreaking havoc with your circadian rhythm and may create “technology jet lag.” Eliminate the use of electronic devices 60 minutes before bedtime.
Control caffeine intake
Cut off caffeine consumption in the late afternoon or, at the latest, by dinner. The timing is different for each person, based on how his or her body metabolizes caffeine.
Limit when you eat and drink
After light stimulation, eating is the single biggest cue to reset our circadian clock. Finish eating 3-4 hours before bedtime. And other than water, limit eating and drinking to 12 hours or less per day. We need to turn off the digestive machinery, so that it can cycle through the same rhythm of activity and rest that the rest of our body needs.
Hydrate throughout the day
Instead of drinking a lot of water right before you go to bed, which can have you waking to run to the bathroom all night, drink steadily throughout the day and make hydration a priority.
Try to get 1-2 hours of sunlight every day
Our body interprets sunlight differently than most indoor lighting. Sunlight has a profound and stabilizing effect on circadian rhythm.
Guard your sleep environment jealously
Keep your place of slumber free of circadian disrupting distractions. If you can’t keep it free of light, then wear a loose-fitting sleep mask. If you can’t keep it quiet, then try background white noise or earplugs. Even flipping on the light if you get up to go to the bathroom, will mess up your circadian timing. Get a dim nightlight.
Nutritionally support your circadian rhythm
Nutrition or lack thereof greatly affects your circadian rhythm. That’s why taking your multivitamin at dinner and utilizing nutritional supplements that feed your circadian rhythm what it needs can be highly effective in promoting better sleep.
And lastly, here is the one thing NOT to do:
Don’t rely on sleep aids that simply knock you out. Eight hours of quality sleep is much different from eight hours of unconsciousness. Getting your circadian rhythm on track really is the only way to offer your body the truly restorative, REM rich sleep that your body needs.
Jennifer Cooper is the Chief Scientific Officer for RestoreZ, developers of sleep aids that work to address your unique sleep concerns with natural ingredients that balance your circadian rhythm, and their new Sleep Nutrition supplement that maximizes the benefits of your daily multivitamin.