6 Strategies to Establishing a Healthy Circadian Rhythm
We are cyclical beings. Every day and every month, there is a myriad of biochemical cycles taking place in our bodies - governing everything from our menstrual cycle, to metabolism and energy, to digestion and detoxification. And all of these cycles are designed to work together - in a rhythmic melodious symphony, or dance. Creating the state of harmony we call health.
If anyone cycle is out of balance, that will affect the harmony of the whole. A major player in this is our sleep/wake cycle - also called our circadian rhythm. Many - if not most - of our other cycles align themselves with this movement of wakefulness and slumber, which is regulated by the rhythmic secretion of the hormone melatonin. That means that if the times we wake up and go to sleep varies greatly from day to day (greatly meaning more than one hour), it will have a big impact on our overall health and wellbeing.
Now, keeping a rhythmic circadian rhythm is far from easy in contemporary society. Things like psychological or emotional stress, shift work, an overloaded schedule, hormonal imbalances, and more tend to throw us off balance again and again. I know this first-hand. On my personal healing journey, my circadian rhythm has been one of the most difficult puzzle pieces to help fall into place. During the years I have found some great strategies that work for me, and I want to share them here with you:
1, Let pleasure lead the way
Let pleasure be your guiding light, rather than a sense of discipline. Find a rhythm that feels really good - not merely one created from an idea of perfection. A part of this is to create a morning routine that feels like a real treat - that you really want to wake up to. This can mean exchanging your regular alarm with a Spotify playlist playing soothing classical music, investing in a wake-up light, going out to watch the sunrise every day, lighting candles or a fire, doing some physical movement that feels really good and nourishing, or putting off time for creative work. It's all about reprogramming our brains and nervous systems into feeling that this routine is connected to pleasure - not a mere "must-do". What will come from this is that we won't need to apply discipline - instead our natural wish for pleasure will lead the way, which is a far better motivation for change.
2, Create a rhythm in your awake day
To go to sleep at the time we have settled on, we also need to adjust the rest of the day into a rhythmic pattern. This means eating at the same times, as well as putting down our work at a set time. Again, we are rhythmic creatures. When we set a rhythm to our waking hours, our sleep rhythm will follow.
3, Consistency, consistency, consistency.
When we have found that rhythm that feels good, we need to keep to it. Also on weekends and vacations. I know, that can really feel like a real downer at first, if you (like me) are a recovering night-owl. But what I've realized is that I can actually find the same sense of relaxation, stillness and creativity in the early morning hours, as I used to relish in the late nights.
Of course, we can have a late-night now and then - but choose those times wisely. Use the same principle as in the first strategy: what late nights activities gives me true pleasure and wellbeing? Do that. And when you've done it, try to get back into a rhythm again the following day.
4, Create an evening routine
Part of this rhythmic day should be a nighttime routine that helps your nervous system slow down and which turns on the production of the sleep hormone - melatonin. This should include turning down the lights - preferably only have low-intensely lights with a reddish/orange tint. Let your brain relax by putting away all screens, and do something that helps you come down: for example some light reading, journaling, a bath, or cuddling. Also, for optimal melatonin production, take measures to make sure your bedroom is pitch dark.
5, Take help from modern technology
I find it really helpful to have some virtual surrogate mothers watching after me. This can mean setting alarms when it's time to eat, stop working, and start preparing for sleep. It can also mean having apps that help you stay off your phone in the evenings - for example, Flipd, AppBlock or Sleep Town. Or using a device like the Oura ring.
6, Be kind to yourself.
Just as when creating any habit, we'll get nowhere by internally shaming
and blaming ourselves. Did you fall off the horse for a week, or for a month for that matter? That's OK. Life happens. Just get back up on the horse when you are ready for it. By practising the strategies in this blog it will become easier and easier to get back up every time.
Treat yourself like you would raise a puppy or a child, that is: with continuity, gentle firmness and loads of love. You wouldn't scream your throat off at a puppy or a child, calling them all kinds of things, every time they did a mistake. First of all, because you love them, second of all because it's simply not good pedagogics. So don't do that to yourself either.
Also, be aware that for periods in life your need for sleep will be much greater. This is especially true in periods of physical and/or psychological healing, and in periods of grief. Acknowledge and accept that, and adjust your rhythm accordingly.
Wishing You all plenty of nourishing sleep, spectacular sunrises, and days full of energy and creativity.
Have you learned something new in this post useful? Leave a comment and to let me know!