Regulating Circadian Rhythms Naturally
Our bodies run on natural cycles, one of the most obvious is the circadian rhythm which is like our internal clock. This 24 hour clock, (which varies slightly from person to person) is responsible for our sleep/wake cycles as well as the production of melatonin which is responsible for promoting relaxation and enhancing sleep. When our circadian rhythm is in balance, we tend to feel healthier with balanced moods. To aid in regulating this cycle there are some simple tools and natural remedies that can be integrated into everyday life to support more restful sleep & long-term wellbeing.
Ways to Bring Back Balance
SLEEP | One of the best ways to balance your circadian rhythm is to make sure you are getting enough sleep every night. We get the most beneficial hormonal secretions and recovery by sleeping during the hours of 10pm to 2am. If you’re sleeping from 1am to 9am and getting eight hours of sleep, you are still missing that prime time when beneficial hormonal secretions like melatonin and HGH (human growth hormone) are at their peak. Clocking a solid 8 hours (from 10-6 or 11-7) always feels best, but see what works best for you! Shoot for the same time every night, so your body gets into a routine. The goal is to wake up feeling refreshed and energized before your alarm clock goes off.
CREATE A SUPPORTIVE SLEEP ENVIRONMENT | Remove all electronics from the bedroom. If you need an alarm, use one that is battery operated. Keep room temp between 60-67 degrees as it helps to regulate body temperature throughout the night. Use a fan or white noise to block out sounds and simulate the womb; this offers a deep sense of safety and comfort to the unconscious mind. Clean the air and soften the lighting with a Himalayan salt lamp. Keeping the room as dark as possible enhances melatonin production. If need be, use a sleep mask to block out light.
AVOID SCREENS BEFORE BED | Artificial blue light emitting from your electronic screen triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones (like cortisol) and disorients your body’s natural preparation for sleep. Programs like flux are fantastic ways to protect yourself from too much screen time. To get your body into a deep state of relaxation, shut down all electronics 60 mins – 2 hours before you hit the hay. Allow your mind and body to shift from work mode to sleep mode. This will improve your sleep quality almost immediately.
MOVE YOUR BODY | Regular exercise lengthens and deepens sleep. Our ancestors spent most of the day moving and slept when the sun went down. Movement is necessary for connecting our body to the natural rhythm of nature and aligning with our internal circadian rhythm. Be sure to workout 2 hours before bed as movement generally spikes adrenalin and cortisol.
GET SOME EARLY MORNING SUN: Getting sunlight during the morning hours is one of the most important factors in helping to keep your circadian rhythm in check. This happens because the sun is responsible for stimulating your natural melatonin production. Getting some sun 30 minutes in the morning upon waking can regulate energy, mood and enhance mental clarity for the day. If this is not possible, try sitting by a window during the day to expose yourself to sunlight and use full spectrum natural light bulbs when inside.
INCORPORATE MAGNESIUM-RICH FOODS | Magnesium is the anti-stress mineral. It helps to balance blood sugar, optimizes circulation & blood pressure, relaxes tense muscles, reduces pain, and calms the nervous system. By incorporating more magnesium-rich foods into your diet, such as dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, and brazil nuts, you instantly reduce internal stress and improve your quality of sleep.
LIMIT YOUR CAFFEINE INTAKE | Caffeine is highly stimulating to the nervous system and overconsumption increases cortisol and adrenalin production. Do your best to consume any caffeine in the morning, before noon is best and never later than 2pm! This will give your body ample time to metabolize and fully detox the caffeine from your system.
USE CALMING SCENTS | Aromatherapy oils like chamomile, juniper, lavender, marjoram, rose, and sandalwood all have sedative effects when inhaled. Rub a little bit on the insides of your wrists, on your temples or on the bottoms of your feet and allow the scents to carry you off to sleep.
Supportive Herbs & Supplements
Utilizing herbs, adaptogens, and other supplements to support natural sleep and wake cycles can greatly reduce stress on the body and brain. Additionally, herbs can support the natural rhythms of cortisol secretion to promote a healthy stress response to ensure a restful sleep. The herbs below may be helpful.
*Consult with a holistic practitioner or herbalist prior to taking or combining herbs or supplements
Lemon Balm - a mild nervine relaxant that helps with acute cases of stress or tension. It is also ideal for mild insomnia or relaxing in the evening. Try sipping a cup of lemon balm tea in the evening before bed.
Passionflower - has analgesic and tranquilizing properties that allow the body to relax and fall into a deep sleep. Passionflower is also an amazing herb to consider for overthinking, especially at night, as the medicinal properties of this herb allow the mind to be calm and tranquil when thoughts are bombarding your head. Best consumed in tincture form before bed for occasional sleeplessness. Passionflower can also be made into a tea. The sedative effects are best felt when taken on an empty stomach.
Chamomile - another gentle relaxant that helps with calming the nervous system. Try a cup of tea in the evening before bed as part of your routine to relieve stress and calm the body in preparation for sleep.
Valerian - a more powerful sedative that is useful for acute anxiety. It has powerful relaxant and sedative actions which help induce sleep. Valerian can be found in tea combinations or can be taken on its own as a tea or in tincture form.
Skull Cap - a nervine tonic for longer term strengthening of the nervous system with relaxation properties. It is very useful in nerve irritability, hyper-brain activity (“tired-but-wired”) and has sedative qualities as well. It can be taken as a tea (either alone or in a combination) or in tincture form.
Lavender Essential Oil Known for helping induce relaxation and promote a sense of calmness. Use right before bed by applying a few drops to your wrists or spray on your pillow before falling asleep. You can also put a few drops in a diffuser that you can have turned on in your bedroom during the night.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that promotes sound sleep by adjusting the body’s internal clock. Though it won’t force your body to sleep, melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening and put you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep. If melatonin production is compromised, it is difficult to develop a proper sleeping schedule.
Start with .5mg 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. Melatonin is helpful for some, but not all.
Do not use for more than 3 months without consulting a healthcare practitioner.
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant that can subsequently aid in sleep, however, this nutrient is often low as many of the body’s functions require magnesium. It is also used up more rapidly when stressed. Taking a magnesium supplement can you help relax which will in turn help to improve your sleep. Look for magnesium in supplement form as bisglycinate, and you can also take an Epsom salt bath which is another form of magnesium.
GABA (gamma butyric acid) is a naturally occurring chemical compound produced in the brain that helps to calm the excitability of neurons. People who have chronic sleep problems typically have GABA levels that are 30% below normal, as do people with mood disorders, like depression, which are tied to insomnia as well. Try in chewable form 200mg twice daily.
L-Theanine increases alpha wave activity in the brain, mimicking brain waves during deep sleep phases. Because of this, L-theanine increases the production of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, which all promote sleep and elevate mood. Try a chewable supplement 100-200mg daily.
ADAPTOGENS: These are a unique class of herbs that protect and restore the body’s natural clock, primarily through promoting a healthy stress response
Ashwagandha: Used to treat stress and can help induce sleep as well. Try it in a tincture, capsule or powder form. Ashwagandha powder can be added to smoothies and other beverages.
Rhodiola: Associated with helping to relieve stress and fatigue, which can be related to an imbalance in natural sleep patterns. Try in a tincture or capsule form. However, while rhodiola reduces stress it can also act as a stimulant so it should only be taken during the day..
Incorporating herbs, adaptogens and supplements that promote relaxation and sleep into your routine, along with lifestyle shifts greatly enhances your body’s ability to reset its circadian rhythm.