How to Maximize Your Circadian Rhythm

by Margaret Stoklosa

As much as we don’t like to admit it, humans are wired to operate on a 24-hr circadian cycle.  Daylight indicates wakefulness and a shift to food consumption, while darkness indicates restfulness and a shift to bowel rest. Our genes and subsequent enzyme systems conform to this cycle and release an array of molecules that help our bodies digest when appropriate and clean when indicated – there is cellular debris that needs to be emptied daily. When this cycle is disrupted, chronic disease can arise.  Metabolic dysregulation leading to type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease has been observed in nurses that are involved in shiftwork (1). Most dysregulation is brought on by intentional changes that do not involve the workplace (insufficient early morning light exposure, late night eating, prolonged exposure to bright light, late sleeping windows, etc.), but that do impact the way nutrients are processed within the body. This disruption also has a large effect on cognitive flexibility and on how aging occurs (2). Studies also show that individuals that shift the eating window towards a later one are more prone to gaining weight even with the same number of calories eaten throughout the day (3). 

Follow these steps to maximize your circadian circuitry: 

  • Go outside during the first part of the day to expose your eyes to bright light (this will help your mood) 
  • Enjoy eating in an 8-12hr window, eating no later than 8pm 
  • Fast overnight 
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of shut eye (sleeping less can make you hungrier the next day and more prone to consume added calories), going to bed no later than 11pm  
  • Eat breakfast daily, as studies show that those who do, eat in a healthier way throughout the day (4) 
  • Stop eating at least 2 hours before bedtime to avoid sluggish digestion and disruption to the body’s “cleaning” cycles 
  • Avoid stimulating bright/blue light at least 2 hours before bedtime (if you must continue to work, then use blue blocking glasses at night) 
  • Avoid “shiftwork” or staying up for 3 or more hours between 10pm and 5am 

Speaking to our in-house nutritionist can help you identify ways to maximize your circadian rhythm, even if you have to be involved in shiftwork. 

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