Circadian Rhythm & How It Affects My Sleep?

circadian rhythm

What is the Circadian Rhythm & How it Affects My Sleep?

Yes… what IS this Circadian Rhythm you speak of?

There’s lots of science behind it but to put it simply it’s your body’s internal clock.  It controls your physical, mental & behavioural changes over a 24 hour period. Your sleep quality depends upon it.  It helps control your daily schedule for when you fall asleep & for when you wake up.  Even your pets have a circadian rhythm!

Your circadian rhythm is influenced by outside things such as light & dark (plus other factors).  What happens is, is that your brain receives signals based on your surroundings & environment which wakes up certain hormones which in turn, alters your body temperature as well as regulates your metabolism to either keep you awake or steer you towards sleep.

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Let’s talk science!

Cells in your Body

The cells in your brain respond to light & dark which is captured through your eyes.  This then sends a message to other cells about when it’s time to wake up or when it’s time for lights out.  Those cells then send MORE signals to the brain which makes you either more sleepy or more awake.


Of course, hormones!  They are the Mrs Mangle of your body & are involved in practically everything – can’t help themselves.  Hormones like melatonin & cortisol can increase or decrease the function of your circadian rhythm.  You’ve probably heard of melatonin & it is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.  Your body suppresses it during the day but releases it at night time.  Cortisol on the other hand makes you feel more awake & alert, so naturally your body produces more of this in the morning.

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Other Factors

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Metabolism (the way your body burns food for fuel) & your body temperature also play a part in the workings of your circadian rhythm. While you’re asleep, your temperature drops & when you’re awake your temperature rises.  Your metabolism also works at different rates during the day & may be more efficient due to your diet & exercise or may be sluggish if you’re not very active.

Age also influences how your circadian rhythm functions.  Babies, teenagers & adults all have different rhythms – big surprise!  I remember being up at 5am watching the shopping channels when my children were babies.  And now as I type this mid-morning on a Saturday, they are all still in bed as teenagers.

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Interestingly, babies haven’t developed their circadian rhythm until they are a few months old – which explains their erratic sleeping patterns.  As they adapt to the environment around them they start to release melatonin (around 3 months old) & cortisol develops anywhere between being 2-9 months old.

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Teenagers experience a sleep phase delay which is a shift in their circadian rhythm.  As children they would have gone to bed much earlier but as teenagers they may not feel that tired until much later.  This can be because their melatonin doesn’t kick in until around 10-11pm or later which also consequently sees them sleeping longer in the morning.  As much as they might want to disagree with you, they still need the same amount of sleep as children which is 9-10 hours.

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Adults should basically have it down pat with their circadian rhythm – especially if you exercise & eat well.  If adults follow a regular routine of going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time, their circadian rhythm should remain stable.  As adults age they may notice it changes again, feeling the desire to retire to bed earlier and therefore, wake up earlier.

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How Your Circadian Rhythm Can Go Out of Whack

  1. Different working hours (shift work) where you’re up during the night & have to sleep during the day.  This is made especially worse if the hours constantly change.
  2. Travelling to different time zones …. thanks, jetlag!
  3. Your lifestyle – staying up late or getting up very early.
  4. Medications can affect it. Talk to your doctor if you think your medications are preventing quality sleep.
  5. STRESS – that’s a common one.
  6. Mental health conditions and other health conditions such as dementia.
  7. Poor sleep habits – not sticking to a sleep schedule, eating/drinking late at night, too much screen time before bed and not having a welcoming sleeping environment.

Resetting is easy enough and just takes some discipline on your part to turn it around. Start getting the sleep quality you deserve and feel better everyday.

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Wishing you good nights & days ahead.


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