‘Fall Back’ Time: Maintaining Our Internal Sleep Rhythm
With the change in seasons and change in time, come early darkness, earlier bedtimes, and darker mornings. In a nutshell: we are getting less sunlight. These changes in patterns of light and dim also affect our internal sleep or circadian rhythm. A well functioning sleep/wake cycle is critical for mood, learning, memory, and overall health and longevity. Culturally, sleep is not valued, and often the last place we focus our energy. However, sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise (if not more so). Our brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration/renewal, memory, recall, focus, concentration, mood, and many other biological activities linked to our daily circadian rhythm.
Our Internal Rhythm is Easier to Set in the Summer Time
During the summer months, we tend to get much more exposure to sunlight (hello beach!). Exposure to the sun during the day helps to produce quality melatonin, a hormone that helps to bring about and maintain sleep at night. During the long days of summer, we fall into what I like to call a “summertime rhythm” with our sleep cycle. We are tired by the end of the day and tend to sleep deeper at night. However, come fall, the days start getting shorter, and we get less sun exposure on our skin. If we aren’t careful, we may also begin to get less quality sleep!
Poor Sleep Can Impact Many Areas of Our Life
Sleep and Memory:
If your internal clock isn’t functioning correctly, the brain releases significant amounts of GABA, an inhibiting neurotransmitter. Even though the role of GABA is to inhibit excitatory neurotransmitters and help us sleep, an excess of GABA inhibits the brain in a way that can lead to short term memory problems and the inability to retain new information.
Sleep Rhythm and Mood:
Quality sleep is imperative for our mental health. Disrupted sleep can be a cause of depression. However, it’s often challenging to identify which came first, insomnia, or depression? Insomnia can contribute to depression and vice versa. Decreased sleep can also contribute to anxiety and mood disorders. Even one night of broken sleep can contribute to irritability and fatigue.
Sleep Rhythm and Longevity:
Re-synchronizing our circadian clock can help slow down the aging process! Mouse models with dysfunctional circadian clocks exhibited reduced life expectancy. This reduction in life expectancy may be due to their inability to control energy expenditure, affecting intracellular aging properly.
5 Ways to Adjust Your Sleep Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour built-in biological clock. Sunlight exposure triggers the body’s hypothalamus to start producing hormones that work to regulate this internal clock. One such hormone, the most powerful for sleep, is melatonin. During the summer, it’s easy to go out and get sunshine, but without sunlight, we can’t produce adequate melatonin. The best time of day to get sunlight and regulate the internal clock is early in the morning. That morning sunshine helps us to produce melatonin at night!
#1: Go for a brisk walk first thing in the morning and get that morning sun exposure year-round; this is a great way to get better sleep at night! During the winter months, it isn’t as easy to get adequate sunlight during the day. However, it’s just as important! If you work in an office, try to work by a sunny window. Also, get outdoors as much as possible, even if it means bundling up to spend just a little time outside on a frigid day. Cloudy days count as well! You still get melatonin-producing rays on cloudy days.
Although we need sunshine during the day, you also need total darkness in the evening. In this technological age, we are continually viewing screens in the evening. We look at cell phone screens, television screens, computer screens, and we are even reading our books on screens. Blue light emitted from these screens tricks your bodies into staying awake, and this makes it difficult to get quality sleep. There are ways we can counteract the effects of blue light, and get more in-depth, restful sleep.
#2: Limit the use of any such screens for two hours preceding bedtime. Instead, get into a routine of taking a warm bath, reading a book (preferably one that won’t amp you up), or doing some gentle stretching. If you can’t miss your favorite show? Then…
#3 If you do need to be on a screen before bed, wear special blue light blocking glasses or even blue light blocking screen covers. When you are ready to sleep, make sure the room you sleep in is as dark as possible. Ideally: pitch black. Avoid the use of nightlights, as any light can interfere with your precious sleep cycle.
#4 Blackout curtains are fantastic for keeping all light out at night. You get the deepest most restorative sleep earlier in the night. The early hours are when your body releases growth hormones, repairing, and rejuvenating. Cortisol (the stress hormone), peaks in the morning and tapers at night. However, when you are not getting enough sunlight during the day, or are overexposed to blue light at night, this can increase our cortisol at night and keep us up later, thus affecting our natural sleep cycles.
#5 Try to get to bed before 10 pm, to get that quality, deep repairing sleep. The earlier you go to bed, the better quality sleep you will get!
Our Microbiome Has a Sleep Rhythm as Well!
The composition and function of your gut microbiome also undergo diurnal changes. The circadian clock in the intestines works in close connection with your gut microbiome. Therefore, not getting quality sleep at night can also affect digestion, gut, and immune health by throwing our microbiome out of rhythm!
Remember, getting quality sleep is a priority. As we move toward shorter days, be sure to still get out in the sunshine, and let your body produce melatonin. Ease into a bedtime routine that does not involve blue light. Sleep in total darkness, and—go to bed early! Going to bed earlier will keep your circadian rhythm in balance, which will, in turn, keep you healthy and happy.
My Favorite Sleep Supplements? (affiliate links)
Transdermal Magnesium (bypasses the need for digestion and goes straight into the bloodstream).
Liposomal Magnesium (more bioavailable)
Kava Plex and Sleep
I found something that I like BETTER than CBD oil (and I love quality CBD). It’s full-spectrum kava oil! This is not to be confused with the stuff you get at health food stores called “kava kava.” Rather, t’s the noble root variety of kava, extracted into a tincture. Kava oil helps you to fall asleep and get a solid night sleep. Many scientific studies have shown that Kavalactones in kava significantly increase GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) activity in the brain, which is the body’s main chemical for shutting down excitability and inducing relaxation. They bind to a specific site in the brain called the GABA(A) receptor, which is a key target for most anti-anxiety drugs and is known as one of the master regulators of stress and sleep in the body.
Kava is great at supporting:
- A calm, positive mood
- Prolonged deep sleep and REM cycles
- A reduction in brain inflammation that supports healthy brain health and sleep cycles long term.
- Anxiety relief
Common Misconceptions Surrounding Kava:
When searching kava, you may find health warnings and misinformation claiming that kava is bad for your liver. According to Kava Plex site: “The origin of these claims is research that was done over 15 years ago in Switzerland and Germany that led to kava drinking being banned in those countries. This ban was reversed in 2015 after a growing body of new research has called into question these early research findings. This research has showed that cases of liver toxicity attributed to kava actually occurred only when the person consumed contaminated kava products (above ground aerial parts of the plant) or Tudei varieties and was also taking other drugs and medications known to negatively effect liver function.”
A recent WHO review of kava mentions:
”Kava has had at least a 1500-year history of safe use, with liver side effects never having arisen in the ethnopharmacological data. Clinical trials of kava have not revealed hepatotoxicty as a problem. This has been confirmed by further studies evaluating the toxicology of kava drink. Based on available scientific information it can be inferred that kava as a traditional beverage is safe for human consumption.”
My favorite brand is Kava Plex-and you can get a discount on it using code: PRIMALBLISS20 (affiliate link)
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. “The rhythm of genes: How the circadian clock regulates 3-D chromatin structure.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180326140222.htm>.
Rosselot, Andrew E et al. “Rhythm and bugs: circadian clocks, gut microbiota, and enteric infections.” Current opinion in gastroenterology vol. 32,1 (2016): 7-11. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000227