The term ‘circadian rhythm’ refers to your body’s 24-hour internal clock that regulates your sleep and wakefulness cycle by responding to light and darkness in your external environment.
Besides modulating your sleep pattern, it also impacts your appetite and production of hormones like cortisol, leptin, ghrelin and melatonin.
Studies show that disruption of this internal clock can be harmful to your physical and mental health in the long run—causing brain fog, immune dysregulation, mood disorders, inflammation and premature aging, among other things.
Board-certified physician and pain management expert, Dr. Reuben Chen, shares five simple strategies to harness your circadian rhythm to boost productivity and overall well-being:
#1 Know your chronotype. You probably already know whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, although most people fall somewhere in between. These aren’t mere preferences, but rather your body’s natural programming or disposition to be awake or asleep at certain times. Along the spectrum of these two polar opposite chronotypes, people have different times for peak alertness, hunger, the release of cortisol and melatonin, etc.
#2 Try to schedule work around your circadian rhythms, not the other way around. Most night owls have had a boss who is an early bird and wants to schedule a meeting at 8 am. They end up dragging their feet—exhausted and bleary-eyed—to the meeting, knowing that productivity isn’t in the cards. The good news is that Generation Z has heralded a new work ethic, where individual work styles are embraced. Talk to your manager about adjusting your working hours to match your biological clock. This is becoming more common as asynchronous work becomes normalized.
#3 Create a morning ritual based on your chronotype. If you wake up raring to go, then early morning exercise, or powering through some complex work is in order. If you can’t open your eyes, or that snooze button is your best friend, spend the first 30 to 60 minutes meditating, deep breathing or doing gentle stretches.
#4 Plan your meals. For those who wake up ravenous, make breakfast your biggest mealwell-rounded well rounded—chock full of protein, rich in fiber and heavy in nutrients. If you wake up with no appetite, grab a protein shake with some fruit and make your meals more calorie-dense and varied as the day goes on.
#5 Get your zeitgebers in sync. A zeitgeber is a cue, such as light and temperature, that influences your biological clock. If you’re an early bird, sleep with the shades open and let the natural light wake you up naturally. If you’re a night owl, keep the shades drawn but use a full spectrum light on a timer to signal your body when it’s your natural waking time.
Additionally, make sure your bedroom is cool and dark at bedtime as darkness and lower body temperature promote deeper sleep. Also, keep your eating and exercise habits consistent, Dr. Chen recommends. “A schedule trains your body to know when to expect certain activities which in turn primes the body for sleep,” she says.