Feeling out of sync? Let's talk about your circadian rhythms.
By Amy Crawford
Sleep has become a bit of a hot topic on this blog lately and it's time to wake up! (because I'm not done yet). We've chatted about insomnia and given you 8 tips for a better sleep. We've also given you four reasons to make your bed each day. So what could possibly be next you may ask?
Have you ever said to yourself ‘I feel out of sync’? or ‘I just can’t seem to find my rhythm’? How about ‘I feel tired and I've no idea why’?
You’re trying to keep your focus and have a productive day, but your body didn’t seem to get the memo.
Then on other days, your body feels like it’s hitting it’s stride – you feel laser focused, wide awake with explosive energy and you’re ready to take on the world.
This happens to all of us, and it’s hard to know what to do about it unless you know what’s actually happening inside your body.
Circadian rhythms are your body’s internal rhythms, or daily cycles. They’re controlled by your body clock (the thing that hates you when you’ve slept in too long) and release hormones that impact when you’re focused and switched on, and when you’re flat and unproductive.
Knowing exactly how this simple process works means you will easily be able to re-sync yourself when you’re feeling out, as well as optimise how focused and full of beans you are, and when. And the best thing is, it’s all natural, using your body’s own resources to your advantage.
What are circadian rhythms?
Circadian rhythms refer to all of the physical, mental and behavioural changes that happen in your body on a 24-hour cycle. They’re mostly run by a ‘body clock’, made up of nerve cells hanging out together in your brain. Together they act as a little timekeeper that makes sure all of these changes happen at the times they’re supposed to.
This body clock is responsible for our bodies knowing the difference between morning and afternoon, day and night. It regulates our sleeping and eating patterns, alertness, body temperature, brain activity, and glucose and insulin levels, among many others. If you’ve ever wondered why your newborn can’t just get with the program and sleep through the night like regular people, it’s actually because their circadian rhythms haven’t been developed fully yet!
Your focus is mostly impacted by the production and controlled release of hormones in your body. The big one you need to know about is melatonin, and the body clock is kind of like a time-controlled hamster feeding station that dispenses it when it’s ‘time’.
How circadian rhythms influence your focus
The clock takes cues both from body memory and the environment. It knows when you sleep and wake normally and controls melatonin as a result. Just before your normal sleep time melatonin is released to make you drowsy. It continues steadily until 3am, then tapers off so you can wake up and focus during the day.
When your body is releasing melatonin, your focus is at it’s worst. When your regular schedule, particularly your sleeping patterns get thrown out, hormones get released at different times which causes havoc inside your body. This is why you feel ‘out of sync’.
How to optimise your focus and stay in-sync with your circadian rhythms
Go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day. Throwing your hormones all over the place affects the quality of your sleep and in turn, the times of the day that you focus the best. Keep a regular schedule of sleep, and try not to use your phone just before bed because white light makes your body think it’s daytime. For a quality sleep, check out our blog post on insomnia.
Do daily activities at a similar time during the day. Reading, studying, working, yoga, whatever it is – try to keep a regular schedule. This can reset your body clock after a sleepless night, and your focus and attentiveness will actually improve during the activity because your body learns how to get ready for it.
Get the important stuff done at noon and 6pm. This will depend on whether you’re a lark or a night owl, so adjust accordingly – but the hours around these times you’re at your peak alertness, and will naturally be laser focused on what you’re doing.
Get the non important stuff done in the early morning and 3pm. These are the times your rhythms are at their lowest focus. In the first hour of the day you have the least access to your long term memory, which makes it great for routine tasks and things that get you ready for the day.
Interesting huh? Personally I find the biggest knock on for me comes from big sleep ins on the weekend; if I lie too long I'm cloudy for the rest of the day. I tend therefore to get up as soon as I naturally wake, to get the best out of my day.
How do you feel about this, do you think it worth 'editing' your current routine to get more out of your day?