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Have you ever noticed that you seem to get tired or hungry at about the same time each day? That’s no coincidence. It’s your circadian rhythm at work.

No, circadian rhythm isn’t the latest dance craze from the makers of Now That’s What I Call Music Vol. 1,240. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that all living things — including plants, bacteria, and other animals — experience. The first modern scientific study of the circadian rhythm occurred in 1729, when Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, a French astronomer, noticed that his plants opened and closed at the same time every day. Curious about this behavior, he then placed all his plants in total darkness and observed that they continued to open and close at the same time despite the absence of light.

Accidental Discovery.

De Mairan didn’t actually realize that this indicated that the plants were opening and closing in accordance with an internal clock. Instead, he believed that the plants could somehow sense the sun without actually being exposed to it. But his research laid the groundwork for later investigations into what became known as the circadian rhythm (from the Latin “circa,” or “about,” and “diem,” or “day” … because at Sleep365, we like Latin).

In addition to causing some plants to open and close on a regular schedule, we now know that the circadian rhythm serves to regulate feeding patterns, digestion, hormone production, cell regeneration, and a number of other biological processes – including your sleeping habits.

While circadian rhythms are largely determined by molecular mechanisms and genetic factors, they can be altered by disruptions in your sleeping schedule. During daylight savings time, for instance – when you wake up earlier or later, depending on the season – your circadian rhythm can take several days to readjust.

Disrupting Your Rhythm

Jet lag is also the result of a disruption in your circadian rhythm. If you fly from California to New York, your biological clock will remain unchanged for a few days. And until it does, waking up in New York at 8:00 a.m. will feel like waking up at 5:00 a.m.

Exposure to artificial light can also upset your circadian rhythm. The most disruptive type of light to the circadian rhythm is short-wavelength (blue and blue-green) light of the type produced by electronic devices. That’s why doctors discourage the use of laptops, phones, televisions, and other electronic devices in the two to three hours or so before sleep. But even the use of lamps and other light fixtures can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Sleep researcher Charles Czeisler says that “increasing light consumption has paralleled the rise in sleep deficiency.”

Beyond to-do lists.

Journaling is a healthy activity for lots of reasons beyond sleep. If you find writing out to-do lists isn’t quite working for you, don’t give up. This is just one study, and there’s lots more to learn about the subject. There’s clearly a cognitive benefit to writing a journal and allowing your mind to unwind before bed. So here are a few other ideas for journaling to try out:

  • 1. Stay On Schedule
    Eat and sleep at approximately the same times each day. Deviating from your regular schedule can make it difficult to get a healthy night’s sleep. Every time you have a midnight snack, for instance, your biological clock resets, which makes it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep.
  • 2. Grab the Spotlight
    When you wake, expose yourself to bright light for at least 20 minutes. Natural sunlight is preferable, but if you wake in the dead of winter, turning on your home’s lights will also help you achieve a healthy circadian rhythm.
  • 3. Stay Active
    Stay active throughout the day is also important. Exercising and engaging in outdoor activities can help you keep your circadian rhythm in line, so avoid the urge to nap or stay inactive for too long during the day.
  • 4. Avoid Disruption
    Avoid physically or mentally disruptive activities. This can include everything from eating heavy or spicy foods, drinking caffeinated beverages, or watching the news before bed.
  • 5. Turn Out That Spotlight
    Avoid exposure to light at night – especially light from phones and other electronic devices.

A big deal.

Sleep deficiency isn’t just an inconvenience that can be solved with a steady diet of caffeine and energy drinks throughout the day. Sleeplessness has been tied to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and stroke. That’s why it’s important to carefully regulate your sleep schedule and avoid altering your circadian rhythm.

Can’t keep your rhythm?

Sometimes a great mattress like our natural, luxury options are great for helping you settle into a rhythm. But if all else fails, you can also talk to your doctor about melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleep cycles, and taking a melatonin supplement about six hours before bedtime can help you get on track.