Dr. Myatt’s Advice for Healthy Circadian Rhythms
Well, so sorry to hear that your energy isn’t up to what you think it should be. However, before we go looking for some complicated explanation, or simply chalk it up to “old age,” let’s correct one obvious and easy potential cause of this problem: Circadian Rhythm disturbance.
Short course: get to bed by 10 p.m.! Here’s why.
The Importance of “Early to Bed, Early to Rise”
The 24-hour sleep/wake, light/dark cycle, also called the Circadian Rhythm Cycle, sets the pace for the entire endocrine system. This is big. HUGE, in fact.
Humans evolved sleeping when it was dark and being active by daylight. Our circadian rhythms, including natural melatonin production, respond to this cycle.
Melatonin, a hormone and antioxidant, is produced primarily between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. when our eyes are closed and we are not exposed to light.
Any time that we are awake during this critical period decreases melatonin production and serves to de-stabilize our circadian rhythms.
Many people think that if they go to bed later and simply sleep in later in the morning, everything is fine. This belief recognizes only the total number of hours that we need to sleep but ignores the importance of sleeping (or at least having eyes closed in the dark) between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. It’s not just the total number of hours we sleep, but the times and light/dark conditions under which we sleep, that determine the health of our 24-hour Circadian cycle.
Importance of the Circadian Rhythm in Humans
Hormones affected by Circadian Rhythm disturbances include cortisol, thyrotropin, prolactin, growth hormone, and melatonin.
Disruption of the human “Circadian Clock” is associated with fatigue, disorientation, insomnia, impaired detoxification and liver function, blood pressure dysregulation, altered heart rate, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders (depression, anger, inattention, irritability), bipolar and unipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder and neurological diseases including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and stroke.
Given the far-reaching importance of a normal circadian rhythm to overall health, I recommend that you alter your “pre-bed routine” and do whatever it takes to establish a health sleep/wake cycle.
Here are my “get your circadian rhythms right” recommendations.
- Get to bed by 10 p.m. with lights out.
- Expose yourself to daylight (preferably sunlight) in the morning, even if this means stepping out on the porch to face East and take a few deep breaths.
- Low-dose melatonin (3mg) between 9 p.m. and bedtime may help sleep and boost levels of this important hormone (which declines with age).
- No lights in the bedroom. If you need a nightlight, keep a flashlight near the bed. Try to sleep in darkness.
- Daytime napping does NOT interfere with Circadian rhythms as long as bedtimes are held constant.
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