In this blog post, I will talk about how important it is to have healthy sleeping habits so it supports your body’s recovery rather than making it worse. Providing your body with enough rest and sleep is crucial for healing! Just as eating enough and stopping all calorie compensation behaviors. But often times we solely focus on food and forget our body’s primarily restoration time – a good nights sleep!
Also, I will explain what is something called Circadian Rhythm and why it’s important to sync your body to this natural rhythm. I will explain how it affects your energy levels, hormones, metabolism and even hunger cues – all of these need to be healed for your body to fully recover.
What is circadian rhythm?
So what is circadian rhythm? In short, it’s our biological clock that is closely tied to the 24-hour rise and fall of the sun. During the 24-hour cycle, our body secretes various chemicals and enzymes that regulate our biological clock. Yes, we as humans are connected to the earth and its natural rhythms. We are designed to work aligned with nature – when the sun rises we should be ready to face the day with enough energy and when the sun falls our body should start to wind down, getting ready for a good night sleep.
However, our world nowadays is not very supportive of this natural built-in system of our body and it can easily become messed up. We have electronic devices (TV, phone, computer) illuminating blue light from the screens that suppress our body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. We stay up until 2 am because we have the ability to use indoor lighting that can send our body the signal it’s still daytime. We drink too much coffee so the cortisol levels in our bloodstream make us energetic when we actually could use rest instead. We are stressed out about school, work, or from watching negative stuff from the media. All of these things mess up our circadian rhythm and it will affect our health.
The circadian rhythm is responsible for a host of different hormones and neurotransmitters of our body that make us awake and energetic. It drives hormones related to our appetite, metabolism, stress. Almost every hormonal system of our body is tied to the circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is best described as having these peak and valleys of energy levels throughout the day and night. The peak should be at daytime giving us plenty of energy to live our lives and dealing with everyday tasks. The valley should be during night time when the energy levels naturally drop making us ready for a good night of rest and regeneration.
Ideally, the peaks should be high when you have high energy levels and the valleys should be low enough you fall asleep easily and sleep until the morning restfully. But our modern world disrupts this with artificial lighting, blue light emitting screens, high-stress levels caused by our hectic lifestyle and by using stimulants to give us energy such as drinking too much coffee. And because of this the peaks and valleys are flattened out – during day time we have low energy so we tend to be tired and even sleepy and during night time we feel overstimulated and can’t fall asleep easily. So we develop daytime fatigue and nighttime insomnia symptoms.
In which ways messed up circadian rhythm affects our health?
As said earlier circadian rhythm is responsible for a whole bunch of hormonal systems of our body. For example, the hormone leptin that’s responsible for adjusting your body fat levels. Also cortisol, the stress hormone. If your cortisol levels are too high during the night time (because your sleeping patterns are messed up) the leptin levels in your body will increase. So you can gain weight just by having a messed up sleeping schedule. This is a stress response of your body! Having an unhealthy sleeping schedule, on a physiological level is a form of chronic stress which can lead to adrenal fatigue.
Circadian rhythm also affects your thyroid hormones that regulate the speed of your metabolism and even your hunger hormones. During the evening it should be natural for our body to decrease producing cortisol and increase producing serotonin that can lower your appetite, making you calm and sleepy, ready for a good night rest. But with an unhealthy circadian rhythm, this system is rather upside down – we feel most energetic during the evening with a huge appetite and during the morning our appetite is almost non-existent and we might need coffee to get the day started.
Matt Stone, one of the leading experts today on metabolic health notes that “People with various signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome seem to almost always have circadian rhythms that are totally out of whack.” ( from here.)
In terms of eating disorder recovery can you now see just HOW negatively the irregular, out of whack sleeping schedule and habits affect your recovery? The hormonal and metabolic recovery?… Yes? Good! So now you know you must address this issue and fix your circadian rhythm.
How to fix your circadian rhythm?
- Go to bed early and wake up early. Ideally, I would say be in bed, ready to sleep by 10 pm. Wake up by 7-8 am. This is not a die-hard rule but generally what to stick to. But don’t take it lightly! Don’t think you can go to bed 2 am and just wake up 11 am because you will still get the same hours of sleep, right? Nope, it’s not the same! Remember, our body needs to sleep during night hours and wake up in the morning with the sun. The difference is BIG!
- Eat your breakfast. I know, you are used to your big night time meals, I get it. And during recovery, you should eat whenever. BUT, in terms of your energy levels you need that well-sized breakfast to fix your circadian rhythm and in the long run, it will also help you to normalize the nighttime overeating sessions. This is not to say anybody should start restricting food during night time, but your body needs food during the morning as well to support the natural circadian rhythm of your body! So start with a filling breakfast! And I still recommend regular eating for recovery – eating every 2-3 hours, breakfast, lunch, dinner, also snacks in between as you like!
- Reduce stress during the evening. Don’t watch a violent movie or engage in any arguments. If you find yourself overthinking and worried use journalling as a way to clean your head from all the clutter that has been piled up. You want to be in a relaxed and calm state during the evening so it will be much easier for you to fall asleep.
- It’s best to close the TV and eliminate any blue light emitting electronic device at least 1-2 hours before going to sleep. Blue light mimics daylight and suppresses melatonin production that actually helps you to fall asleep. Dim down lights, take a hot bath with some Epsom salt, fix yourself a cup of sweet chamomile tea and read a novel before bedtime instead. This helps your body get ready for sleep.
- If you absolutely must use your computer or phone in the evening I use an app called iFlux for my MacBook that changes the blue light to yellow light during the evening so it doesn’t effect my body’s natural clock. You can get it from here: https://justgetflux.com/. And for my android phone, I personally use an app called Blue Light Filter – Night Mode. You can see it here: http://bit.ly/2o3gBrv. I am not affiliated with those or anything and I am sure there are other apps available, maybe even better ones, but these are just what I use. Better yet – just don’t use your electronic devices before bed!
See the video below about insomnia and my experience with sleeping problems in recovery:
Cover photo: Shutterstock