How light and dark affects your circadian rhythm and your sleep cycle – Tazeka Aromatherapy
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How light and dark affects your circadian rhythm and your sleep cycle
  • Pay attention to your sleep cycle.


    Restless night? Rough morning?

    Maybe your circadian rhythms are a little off.

    Your body has an internal clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep and wake up. A big influence on keeping your clock ticking in a timely fashion is the presence or absence of light. Simple, but true. That’s why it’s easier to sleep when the lights are off.

    Light—including sunlight, artificial light, and even electronics (yes, that includes your TV and computer!)—signals a group of cells in your hypothalamus called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN). The SCN then signals parts of your brain that influence hormones, body temperature, and other functions that make you feel awake or sleepy.

    Darkness signals your brain to release melatonin, a hormone which makes you feel sleepy and helps you stay asleep. Light, on the other hand, signals the release of hormones like cortisol, which makes you feel more active and alert.

    So when it’s time for bed, but you’re still on the computer, your entire body is being told to stay awake.

    This bodily response to light and dark is your circadian rhythm.


    Other things that can throw off your circadian rhythm are jet lag and being a teenager.

    Jet lag can be a problem because your brain has to struggle with shifting light cues, forcing the body to change its current pattern. The time change—loss or addition of hours to the day—plays a role, but so do light and dark cues that your body isn’t adjusted to.

    And being a teenager? Teenagers need a little more sleep than adults—about 9.25 hours a day. On top of needing more sleep, teens tend to produce melatonin a little later at night than kids and adults, so they’re literally “programmed” to stay up late and sleep in late. The early start-time of school days can be hard on teens’ systems, even without hours of homework and socializing to fit in.


    How can you keep your rhythm steady?

    Some studies have shown that camping for a week or so can help reset your circadian rhythm, because you’re removed from electronics and false light. Your body naturally readjusts to morning and night.

    But the best way to keep your circadian rhythms steady is to keep a regular sleep schedule. Turn off electronics and dim the lights an hour or so before bedtime. Get into bright light as soon as possible after you wake up. Even on weekends, and days when you don’t have work or school, try to go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time. Your body, your mind, and your emotional health will pay you back tenfold!


    Do you have other tips that help you get to sleep and wake up at a regular time? Share them in the comments below!


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