The pandemic has been a reset for many of us. Some have turned it into an opportunity to move on from old habits that are perhaps detrimental to growth, and begin again. Yet, others are finding themselves in a sort of purgatory. It seems a distant memory when we had schedules, soccer teams, school bells, appointments, or workout classes. In an environment like this, it can be hard to keep motivated to develop new, better routines.
Routines, while they might sound annoying or rigid, are extremely beneficial to both mental and physical health. Not just because they give mental comfort, but because routines regulate the physiological functioning of the body.
The most Primal Routine: Circadian Rhythms (Sleep & Wake Cycles) The foundation of health.
We’ve all experienced the internal clock in our brain, but few know that similar “clocks” are utilized by nearly every organ in our body. These clocks, when synchronized by a healthy circadian rhythm, are what allow internal organs—such as the brain, gut, lungs, and heart—to work in tandem. This synergy is fundamental to the functioning of our physiology and immune system.
What happens when our clocks are thrown out of whack?
Not having regular sleep cycles desynchronizes the body. This results in having a corrupted functioning of the immune system, as well as a decline in overall health.
6 Ways to Improve Your Circadian Rhythms:
Unsurprisingly, this is the greatest factor in determining a healthy circadian rhythm. The latest sleep research suggests that babies and toddlers might require sleep as long as twelve hours, children and teens need at least nine hours, and adults need eight hours of sleep per night.
● Problem: We don’t keep consistent sleep schedules.
○ Without proper sleep, our brain functions at a lower level.
○ Studies have indicated that animals who have been deprived of sleep have weaker immune systems.
○ Make a commitment to go to bed at a certain hour.
■ Scheduling and tracking sleep with a calendar, “Sleep: 10:30 pm” can be extremely helpful. Studies show that committing goals to paper (digital or otherwise) results in a higher likelihood of achieving said goal.
○ See more tips below, lowering the lights two to three hours before bed is especially important
2. Light & Darkness + Excess Screen time
Just as the circadian rhythms of the organs synchronize, the body and the environment synchronize. Throughout human evolution, we have slept according to the rising and setting of the sun. Consequently, the circadian rhythm of the brain takes cues from the environment based on light and darkness.
○ Excess Light at Night
○ Excess Screen Time at Night
■ Phones, TVs, and Computers emit blue light. Studies have made it clear that blue light reduces the length of time individuals sleep and also creates less restful sleep. Blue light induces alertness and, therefore, making it harder to relax, fall asleep and even stay asleep.
○ Spend a minimum of 30 minutes outdoors in the sun, each day.
○ Dim the lights two to three hours before bed.
○ Reduce screen exposure two to three hours before bed.
■ For many, this is not feasible. In this case, one could use glasses or screen covers made to filter out the blue light emitted by technology. (Many devices now come with a setting to reduce or eliminate blue light, including iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and even some computers.)
3. Unhealthy Eating Habits
Digestion tasks much of our organs and, accordingly, is very influential in regulating our circadian rhythms. Studies have indicated that avoiding eating or drinking two hours before bed promotes better sleep.
Further studies have indicated that limiting our eating and drinking to take place within an eight-to-twelve hour window benefits our energy levels and overall health. Could this be due to it synchronizing our circadian rhythms?
○ Eating just before bed
■ Instead of our cells regenerating while we sleep, our body is using that energy to digest. This does not promote restful sleep.
○ Eating in large windows.
■ Drinking coffee at 7 am and finishing dessert at 10 pm creates a 15-hour eating window. This puts a lot of strain on the body and digestive system and is detrimental to developing natural bodily rhythms.
○ Avoid drinking or eating two to three hours before bed.
○ Try to eat within 8 – 12-hour windows.
4. Proper Exercise
Multiple studies have indicated that exercise can help align the rhythms of the body back to proper sleeping and waking cycles. Exercising at either 7 am, 1 pm or 4pm has been shown to benefit the onset and duration of melatonin responses by the body. Conversely, exercising at 7 pm or 10 pm has been shown to delay the onset of melatonin (non buono).
5. Stress Management
Stress demands and changes much of the body’s physiology. This can directly interfere with the sleep and wake cycles via hormonal pathways. Setting up ways to manage stress is important for your life, sleep, and overall health.
6. CBD & Sleep
Considering how influential cannabinoid signaling is to the systems and organs that regulate circadian rhythms, one starts to wonder how to address sleep regulation without looking at the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is the regulator of the entire body. It’s enmeshed with nearly every other system of the body and is responsible for modulating virtually all biological processes.
When talking about the ECS (Endocannabinoid System), we’re talking about regulating the body’s circadian rhythm. The ECS is a vital regulator of the central nervous system (CNS), and the CNS is vital in regulating sleep and wake cycles. Throughout the CNS, exists a plethora of cannabinoid receptors.
It’s been established that an optimal sleep and wake cycle is dependent on proper synchronizing of the body. Correspondingly, cannabinoids are what helps our body’s essential systems to work optimally and in tandem with one another. Without proper cannabinoid signaling (stimulated not only by CBD, but also by exercise, sleep, meditation, stress reduction, and the timely digestion of healthy foods), there’s no healthy sleep and wake cycle.
Additionally, the endocannabinoid system has a central role in the manifestation of stress. Endocannabinoids are able to alleviate overstimulation of our HPA axis (the central stress response system) during times of stress by way of signaling in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hypothalamus. This is clearly another mechanism by which CBD is able to be highly influential in regulating sleep cycles.
An Article By Evie Louise
Evie Louise is a recent psychology graduate from New York University. She is a certified in International Cannabinoid Clinical Therapy. Evie sees all forms of the cannabis sativa plant as the future of psychiatry, and hopes to use it in her therapy practice as a full spectrum approach to mental health and wellness.