Your body clock (or circadian rhythm) is your body’s internal timepiece. It is influenced by external cues like light and temperature. It helps you to feel alert at certain times of day and sleepy at other times. When a person’s circadian rhythm is disrupted it can lead to a variety of health problems.
In today’s 24 hour society is it easy to see how our body clocks can get out of sync and leave you feeling exhausted when you should be feeling energised. There are a number of factors that can cause your body clock to be out of alignment with the day/night cycle. One of the most well known of these is jet lag. Jet lag confuses our bodies because of the unnatural light/dark cues we perceive when changing time zones. Another common reason for a disrupted circadian rhythm is shift work. Shift workers are at risk of sleep problems and general health issues because their body is forced to stay alert at night when it wants to sleep.
There are other less extreme and less obvious things that can influence your body clock too. The time change with daylight savings beginning and ending is one of these. Scientists have found that there are more traffic accidents and workplace injuries when we move the clocks forward in Spring. Other factors include working late at the computer, socialising very late at night, illness or a spate of sleep-ins.
Hacks to reset your body clock
Okay, that’s enough about the problem. Let’s look at the solutions –
- Make small changes. Research shows that adjusting your sleep schedule by no more than 30 minutes at a time will yield the best results. Stay on this new time for about a week before making another half hour adjustment.
- Keep a routine. It may sound boring but a sleep routine is the best way to keep your body clocking ticking the way it should. As much as possible, try to keep the same sleep and wake up times every day.
- Let the sun shine in. Sunlight is one of the strongest cues to your body that it should be awake. So, if you are not feeling energised in the morning, have your breakfast in the fresh air and get some sunlight into you.
- Movement. You don’t need to run a marathon to tell your body it’s time to be awake. Get your large joints moving with some simple stretches or exercises.
- Eat during the day. This one is not always going to be practical in our busy lives. However, some research has indicated that eating during daylight helps to preserve your circadian rhythm. So, you may want to move your dinner timer a little earlier.
- No more nightcaps. Certain foods, that send messages to our bodies to be alert should be avoided in the evening. Sadly, these include caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and foods high in saturated fat or sugar.
- Turn the lights off. Avoiding artificial light after sundown will also help you to get your groove back. You probably don’t want to sit in complete darkness, so try dimming the lights, especially close to sleep time.
- Tech free zone. The light emitted from device screens (mobile phones, laptops, tablets, TV) are high in blue light, which means they trick the body into thinking it’s daytime. This makes you feel more alert and awake. Stay away from all technology for an hour before you intend to go to sleep.
- Use a sleep mask. Experts agree that sleeping in a dark room is far better for your body clock than sleeping with a light on. Our bodies are naturally programmed to sleep in total darkness. If your bedroom is not totally dark at night, for whatever reason, it’s time to invest in an eye mask.
- Get enough sleep. This one might seem obvious, but your body clock is not going to run if the batteries are low. The amount of sleep needed varies from individual to individual, but most adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours a night.
- Go camping. Camping is the perfect way to get plenty of light during the day and minimal artificial light at night. If you need a hardcore reset for your body clock then it’s time to go bush! Try to save the mobile phone for emergencies only.
- There’s an app for that. If jet lag is the cause of your time warp try this free app which will calculate when you should be exposed to lightness and darkness to get back on track.