Circadian health might sound like a buzzword or the latest celebrity health trend, but it’s actually pretty important. You might not be familiar with the term “circadian health,” but it’s worth getting to know a little bit more about this often overlooked area of our health and wellness.
Circadian health refers to your body’s internal 24-hour clock and how your circadian rhythm influences how your body operates on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake cycle influences a number of things from hormones to weight loss and various other aspects of health, so ensuring it’s optimized is important for overall health and wellness.
Our internal clock
Our bodies have an amazing natural ability of keeping to a daily schedule via an internal 24-hour master clock. This clock contributes to the patterns, also known as circadian rhythms, of many biological activities including sleep-wake cycles, eating patterns, and hormone function.
Disruptions to this rhythm can impact health in many ways, often first appearing as changes in sleep, mood, and energy, with eventual negative outcomes that can include unwanted weight gain, memory issues, and digestive complaints.1
Many of the things that we associate with a healthy lifestyle—such as exercise, nutrition, and getting enough sleep—positively impact circadian health. The same goes for avoiding the things we know aren’t good for us, as they tend to generally disrupt our circadian rhythms.
Follow the light
In my practice, I recommend the following habits to support optimal circadian health:
A consistent routine, including regular bed and wake times
Exposure to natural sunlight within an hour of waking
Intentional movement daily
Intermittent fasting (or time-restricted eating)
Avoidance of “too much,” especially when it comes to things such as alcohol, caffeine, calories, stress, sitting, screen time, and sugar
Cleaning the slate and finding your own rhythm: Unlearn what you think you know about food. Avoid categorizing food as “good” vs. “bad” or even “breakfast” vs. “supper foods” and learn to tune in to your body’s cues
The bottom line
Your habits matter and the things we do day after day have a significant impact on circadian rhythm. In this way, we all have the opportunity and ability to optimize our own circadian health, contributing to better overall health and wellness.
The best place to start is to gather information about your current habits and routines to better understand where improvements can be made. Keep notes on what time you wake up, when you ate—especially the first and last meal, snack, or drink—when you exercised, the amount of time spent outdoors, what time you went to bed, and how you felt. A good strategy is to track for an entire week so you can notice patterns, how your routines change throughout the week, and how those changes made you feel.
Once you’re armed with this information, start by implementing one positive change and make it a nonnegotiable. Choose something you feel you can stick with and create a plan to ensure your success. Start small and build on it from there.
Maybe it’s 10 minutes of exercise daily or getting to bed an hour earlier every night. It really could be anything because every healthy choice will have a positive impact on circadian health. Keep it simple, and follow the light.
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1. Rosenwasser AM et al. Sleep Med Clin. 2015;10(4):403-412.2. Gamble KL et al. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2014;10(8):466-475.3. Gupta NJ. Nutr Metab Insights. 2019;12:1178638819869024.4. Fatima N et al. Pflugers Arch. 2020;472(5):513-526.