Our bodies have a natural clock that operates in accordance with darkness and light, and many of our bodily functions fluctuate according to this schedule. However, some of our modern ways of living don't match up with this natural clock, which can cause some health issues. Luckily, there are a number of habits that can help you live in sync with your natural circadian rhythm, and doing so can come with some positive changes. When we try to honor our body's natural schedule, it can help with sleep, mood, disease prevention, and more.
"Most of the Earth’s inhabitants thrive on a circadian rhythm," family physician Dr. Elizabeth Rice, ND tells Bustle. "Plants, animals, and, even, bacteria are driven by internal clocks that mimic the Earth’s 24 hour light/dark cycle. As humans, our bodies are inextricably linked with this natural circadian rhythm, and our health is dependent upon harmonizing with it."
If you're still not convinced that our health requires staying in line with our natural circadian rhythm, think about how you feel when you travel across the world for the first few days. "Jet lag is a prime example of what happens when our natural circadian rhythm is disrupted," Dr. Rice says.
To help you maximize your health and feel your best, consider adopting these seven habits that help you live in sync with your natural circadian rhythm.
1. Go Outside In The Morning
"Spend time in the early morning hours in the sunlight," Dr. Rice says. "If the weather does not permit spending time outdoors, invest in a high quality light therapy box, and use it while getting ready in the morning. Allowing the light to enter your eyes in the early morning sends the appropriate signal to your brain to help set your circadian rhythm." This can help with everything from mood and energy levels to even better sleep at night, as exposure to sunlight boosts levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with good mood.
2. Take A Siesta
If you've ever experienced the afternoon slump — and let's be honest, who hasn't? — you know that there is a lull in our energy levels in the afternoon. This is part of our natural circadian rhythm, and a short slumber might actually be in line with what our body needs during that time. "A brief siesta (less than 30-40 mins) can be helpful to help the body keep to its natural time clock," Joe Feuerstein, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University, tells Bustle.
3. Eat Within An Eight-To-Ten Hour Period
Recent research has found that eating between an eight-to-ten-hour window can help get our body in sync with our natural circadian rhythms. "The body starts shifting from energy production in the day to storage and restorative function at night," physician Eudene Harry, MD, tells Bustle. "Eating this way gives the body the 12 to 14 hours it needs to focus all of its resources on restoring and repairing." Eating earlier in the day is also aligned with your body's natural clock, as blood sugar control is actually better in the morning, along with digestion.
4. Avoid Electronics Before Bed
"As the sun sets, begin to dim the lights in your house preparing for the darkness of night," Dr. Rice says. "Turn off all lights for bedtime and avoid blue light (TV, cell phones, screens, etc.) for one hour before bed." Electronics can mess with your body's natural circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin production, the hormone that influences your body's natural clock and helps you get to sleep, Harvard Health says. So try cutting screen time right before bed.
5. Make Sure Your Bedroom Is Dark & Cool At Night
Creating a good environment for sleep can also help you remain in sync with your natural circadian rhythm. "The body starts producing its major sleep hormone, melatonin about 9 p.m. and wraps up production about 7:30 a.m.," Dr. Harry says. "Creating an environment that contributes to the optimal production of melatonin can go a long way ensuring that you get the recommended seven to eight hours of restorative sleep." Keeping your room dark is important, as light suppresses production of melatonin. Set your room to a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees to create a drop in temperature in your body, which can help naturally induce sleep.
6. Stick To A Regular Sleep Schedule
It can be hard to stick to a regular bedtime when your schedule is constantly changing, but it's important to aim for the same bedtime and morning wake time to keep your body clock regular. "Research suggests that establishing and maintaining a healthy routine seven days a week may be better than having ... to compensate over the weekend," says Harry. "For example, having an erratic sleep schedule during the week and sleeping heavily over the weekend often leaves you feeling more jet lagged than refreshed."
7. Go Camping
Take some time every so often to go on a camping getaway. "It seems that one weekend of camping may be enough to reset your circadian rhythm," says Harry. "Several small observational studies by the University of Colorado suggest that a weekend of sleeping under the stars — without the impact of all that artificial light interference — may actually impact the secretion of our melatonin and help us to fall asleep earlier even after the camping trip."
Engaging in these habits can help regulate your body's circadian rhythm and improve everything from your mood to how well you sleep.