An Easy Way To Set Your Circadian Rhythm
The way you wake up isn’t necessarily something that you may consider when analyzing how healthy your life is.
But in reality, most people start the day sub-optimally from the second they open their eyes, literally. Humans evolved living in caves and sleeping under the stars. Our light — dark cycles were established based on the sun coming up and setting in a rhythmic fashion. Much has been written about how our modern use of artificial light in the evening can disrupt our circadian rhythms, reducing melatonin production and disrupting sleep. But the physiological mechanism by which we wake in the morning is also dependent on light, and often undervalued as a component of health. Our modern use of alarms to wake us at the desired time is a suboptimal start to the day, and can be easily corrected for a far more enjoyable waking experience.
Very easily available products such as the Lumie body clock, a light-based alarm clock, work with the body’s physiology to wake you into a calmer, gentler and more energetic start to the day.
The way we wake up (ideally):
As the sun comes up and the level of light gradually rises, light seeps into the pineal gland through the translucent parts of the skull, eyelids etc. This causes melatonin production in the brain to gradually reduce, reducing the drive to sleep, and serotonin levels increase, raising mood and sending cues to the body to be more active. Cortisol, a stimulatory hormone, also rises, increasing blood sugar and blood pressure just slightly, drawing you into consciousness. The result is that you gradually enter the world of wakefulness, ready to start the day, at the end of a sleep cycle, feeling alert, like it is time to be awake, and that you are actually ready to depart bed.
Contrast that with the way you likely wake up currently. Lying in pitch black, a sudden alarm sounds, the adrenal glands, being connected to your senses at the speed of light through direct nerve innovation, respond in an instant. A small surge of adrenaline into your system kicks you awake, with a mild stress response. With absolutely no harmony between your wake time and your sleep cycles, you may well be thrown into consciousness at the wrong time, resulting in a waking experience that can be quite unpleasant. Not yet ready to wake, slightly stressed, you hit snooze and resent the morning for another 9 minutes.
I cannot recommend strongly enough that you consider investing in a light-based alarm clock that gradually floods your bedroom with increasingly bright light over about 30 minutes. The waking experience is so much more pleasant and far kinder to your physiology. It sets up your day from the very first moment to be more in sync with your body and helps to establish a more regular and robust circadian rhythm.
I also recommend keeping the wake time consistent throughout the week.
You see, a consistent wake time leads to a consistent circadian rhythm. Picture a cave man the morning after celebrating a successful hunt. Dancing around the camp fire, conversation with tribesmen and chasing women (we have not evolved that much in 40,000 years) led to a later than norml bed time. But the sun still comes up at the same time the next day, drawing him into consciousness. The result would have been a tired man later that day who would have compensated by napping or heading to bed earlier that night.
But modern man adjusts at the other end. Staying up later on Friday night than you normally would in the week leads to waking later on Saturday morning, which leads to staying up later on Saturday night and waking even later on Sunday morning. Monday comes around and you’re “socially jet-lagged”, struggling to get going at the required time. From a health perspective, you’re causing your circadian rhythm to be disrupted, which can have quite wide ranging consequences on all manner of health related factors from your blood sugar control to your productivity at work.
By leaving a light based alarm clock at a constant time all week, and thus keeping a constant wake time, you’re living more in sync with your natural rhythm and doing your health and performance a huge favour.