What is a circadian rhythm and why it matters to your health
When someone mentions your “circadian rhythm,” most of us feel like we’ve seen it enough to know what it means.
General knowledge says circadian rhythms are our body’s internal clock that tells us when it’s time to sleep and wake up, and it’s important to not stray too far from that natural rhythm, lest we risk… bad stuff. How true is that? Eh… somewhat. But there’s more to it than that, so let’s dig a little deeper.
We’ll start with the most basic question.
According to the Sleep Foundation, a circadian rhythm is a bodily process that runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and is governed by the body’s master internal clock (called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus” or SCN).
The first point to note is that a circadian rhythm is not the same as your body’s internal clock. It’s simply a part of your body’s internal clock (the SCN), which is tasked with regulating all kinds of body functions. The second is that your sleep-wake cycle is not the only circadian rhythm. It’s the most famous, sure, but the CDC states that different functions, such as digestion, hormonal activities, and body temperatures, are all regulated by their own circadian rhythms.
But these rhythms aren’t set in stone – they can be affected by various factors, such as social activity, exercise, temperature, and (the most important one) light. The SCN is exceptionally sensitive to light as an external cue, which is why our body’s functions are naturally so connected to the day/night cycle.
Why is this important to know? The National Sleep Foundation states that problems begin to arise when the body’s internal clock is not lined up with the day/night cycle, such as “health conditions like obesity, diabetes, depression, and sleep disorders.”
It means you could get poor-quality sleep. If that routine of getting poor-quality sleep continues, then chronic disordered sleep behaviors such as insomnia or daytime sleepiness can occur and reinforce that routine.
Long story short: if your circadian rhythm gets misaligned, that means you could become chronically sleep-deprived.
Because your quality of sleep affects so many bodily functions, the natural consequence of a misaligned circadian rhythm (and poor sleep) is that all the systems that depend on good sleep can get out of whack really fast. Mood, mental processes (like focus and creativity), mental health, metabolism, digestion, and more can depend on your quality of sleep.
So when you fall out of sync with your circadian rhythm because of shift work, not keeping consistent sleep schedules, insufficient light exposure during the day, jet lag, or the use of medications or alcohol, the effects could go a whole lot deeper than just one night of poor sleep.
Realigning your circadian rhythm will take a little while because your body loves habits, even habits that hurt its health.
One of the best ways to help your body readjust to the day/night cycle is to practice good sleep hygiene, which means having a consistent routine for waking, sleeping, and doing tasks that promote sleep during the day. We’ve got a great blog about the mechanics of good sleep hygiene and how to cultivate it here.
All the sleep hygiene in the world doesn’t matter much if you have a terrible mattress – a terrible mattress will expose you to aches, pains, and frustration that follows you the whole day, no matter how much sleepytime tea you drink.
If your mattress has seen better days, then it may be time to check out Wolf Mattress for a made-to-order, factory-direct mattress that works with your body instead of against it. Place your order online at https://wolfmattress.com/mattresses/ or come to our factory store at 3434 S. Maplecrest in Fort Wayne.
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