Did you know your body has an internal clock? Everyone’s body clock has a cycle of around 24 hours. You might have heard the term circadian rhythm, which comes from the Latin words “circa” and “dies” meaning around a day. Circadian rhythms affect us physically and mentally. For example, at certain times of day we’re more likely to be hungry or drowsy, and at certain times of day we’re more likely to think more creatively or perform better athletically.
What about sleep?
Your unique body clock is based on your DNA and determines whether you’re more of a morning person or an evening person. The so-called clock genes work together like the cogwheels of a mechanical clock. Together they determine the length and timing of your personal 24-hour cycle. If you’re a morning person, you prefer to go to bed early and wake up early. If you’re an evening person, you prefer to go to bed late and sleep late. This is called your chronotype. In the 1970s, a Swedish researcher introduced the concept of chronotypes to describe differences in daily sleep and activity rhythms in humans.
When it comes to chronotypes, most people fall in the middle, meaning not completely an early riser and not completely a night owl. There’s also some natural change over the human lifespan. Do you remember your sleep patterns being different when you were younger? Chronotype tends to be latest during your late teens and early 20s. Parents of high school and college students might assume their children are staying up late due to rebelliousness or sleeping late due to laziness. What these parents might not realize is, at that age, their child’s biological clock encourages that type of sleep schedule.
What’s your chronotype?
So, where do you fall during the current phase of your life? Are you a night owl, an early riser (also called a lark), or in between? Try asking yourself:
- If my schedule were 100% up to me….
- What time of day or night would feel best for being active and productive?
- What time would feel best for going to bed?
- What time would feel best for getting up in the morning?
Does your real-life schedule match your answers to those questions? If so, you’re lucky! You’re able to live in accordance with your body clock. And everybody should try to at least live as much as possible in alignment with the body clock; it’s better for your health. Alas, most people aren’t entirely free to plan their days based on their own natural rhythms. Commitments such as work, school, and family often determine what time we’re most active and what time we sleep. If your schedule feels in conflict with your chronotype so much that it’s having a negative impact on your health and well-being, try to find ways to make a change (ex. flexible work hours).
What if adjusting your daily routine isn’t possible?
Don’t lose hope! Just as someone with a genetic tendency to gain weight can stay slender, with motivation and commitment you can get the rest you need. These tips can help you get the most out of your sleep!
- Most importantly, keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up time that allow for plenty of sleep.
- Try to get some sunshine in the morning and throughout the day.
- Consider a wake-up light or light therapy glasses to make it easier to get out of bed in the morning if you’re a night owl.
- Before bedtime, limit use of electronics and exposure to artificial light.
- You can incorporate blue light-blocking glasses into your routine or use lightbulbs that emit zero or very low levels of blue light in areas where you spend time in the evening.
These tips will help keep your circadian rhythm in balance, to help you sleep better and feel better!