“I cannot emphasize enough how important the circadian rhythm is for prevention of chronic diseases and for long term benefits toward healthspan and eventually lifespan.” – Zheng Cheng, PhD, University of Columbia
Throughout 2.6 million years of evolution, human beings slept in darkness and awoke to the rising of the sun.
There exists a biological clock within all of our cells that respond to environmental cues (primarily the sun) that have been developed by evolving on a planet that has a diurnal day/night cycle. This cycle governs what we call our circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm can be defined as all of the biological processes within us that follow a daily twenty-four hour cycle.
This rhythm causes the cells in your body to carry out specific functions based on the time of day (and whether or not you are awake or asleep); for example, repairing damaged cells during sleep, metabolism, mental alertness, and energy for movement while you are awake.
Studies have shown that when circadian rhythms are disrupted, it can cause a host of diseases, as well as metabolic dysfunction, a compromised immune system, and low testosterone.
A properly regulated circadian rhythm is crucial for overall health and vitality.
Here’s how to properly manage your circadian rhythm to optimize the health benefits:
Eat During the Day, Not at Night
Food metabolism is meant for the daytime when we are awake.
Metabolizing food late at night when you should be asleep is harmful to your health.
Your goal should be to eat during daylight hours by adopting a compressed eating window. For example, if you eat your first meal at 10 am, then your last bite of food should come at 6 pm.
This will ensure that you are not disrupting your circadian rhythm by metabolizing food late into the night when your cells should be focused on repair.
Exercise During the Day, Not at Night
Similar to eating, exercising during the day will optimize your circadian rhythm and enhance your energy levels throughout the day.
Our paleolithic ancestors got the majority of their exercise trekking during the day to hunt and forage. After spending the majority of the day engaged in movement, it’s unlikely that they experienced any strenuous exercise after the sun went down.
The effect of exercise on sleep quality is also an indicator that daytime exercise is beneficial for the circadian rhythm. Daytime exercise sends a signal to your cells that it is day and not night.
Studies have also shown that exercise is most beneficial when done outside in a natural setting during the day.
I try to exercise in the morning or mid-afternoon (preferably outside if weather permits). I make it a general rule never to exercise after 8pm.
Expose Yourself to Bright Light in the Morning
Light exposure is the most important factor in training your circadian rhythm.
It’s absolutely essential to expose yourself to sunlight early in the morning.
If you wake up before sunrise, consider using a sunlamp of at least 10,000 lux. The brighter the light, and the longer you are exposed to it, the more beneficial it is in entrainment of your circadian rhythm. Light affects your circadian rhythm directly through your retinas.
Studies have shown that continuous light exposure during the day is more beneficial for sleep quality than intermittent exposure. Try to get outside in the sunlight as much as you can during the day. If you work indoors, try to take a 30-minute walk outside to expose yourself to sunlight.
Related: 5 Ways to Supercharge Your Morning
Limit Your Light Exposure at Night
As important as it is to expose yourself to bright light during the day, it is equally as important to limit your exposure to bright light at night.
Exposure to blue light is kryptonite for your sleep and energy levels.
Blue light at night delays melatonin production, keeping you up longer at night and causing you to wake up earlier.
Limit your screen time at night. Wear blue-light blogging goggles if necessary.
Read by candlelight instead of scrolling through Instagram.
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