Trouble Sleeping? Here Are 5 Ways to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Getting the proper amount of sleep can be a challenge, especially for those who travel often. Our circadian rhythms are a very complex balance between our internal clocks and the rotation of the Earth. The exact function of this hypersensitive, natural mechanism hasn’t been fully understood until recently and hopefully it can help shed some light on the issues that plague the sleep-deprived.
What is a Circadian Rhythm?
Last year, a team of scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work discovering the precise behavior of the proteins and genetic functions that regulate our sleep and waking patterns. The research of Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young uncovered a protein that accumulates at night and degrades throughout the day, signaling the secretion of certain hormones, such as melatonin which helps us fall asleep, and cortisol that helps us wake up. They made this discovery by studying fruit flies and found that every multicellular organism shares this same function to regulate a cyclical sleep/wake cycle.
Our circadian rhythms vary from person to person, meaning those who claim to be night owls and like to sleep in aren’t lazy, but are actually subject to a different circadian rhythm than those who rise early. Some scientists are calling the grogginess these people face, when forced to submit to society’s business hours, “social jet lag.”
The majority of us ascribe to a similar rhythm, based on the rising and setting of the sun, but even if you have an average rhythm, that cycle gets easily thrown off by a number of factors. In fact, most of us have an internal rhythm that is longer than the 24-hour cycle our society runs on, meaning our bodies must regulate our circadian rhythm on a daily basis to maintain that schedule.
There is a grouping of nerves in the hypothalamus gland, directly behind our eyes, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, that is hypersensitive to light. These nerves are responsible for sending signals to the pineal gland, where melatonin, amongst other hormones, is produced. This is the master clock, so to speak, which regulates the other internal clocks throughout our bodies.
Regulating Circadian Rhythm
When our circadian rhythm is interrupted or mismatched due to an external factor, we become more susceptible to illness. Doctors now associate certain diseases with what they call, chronic misalignment, a longterm imbalance between our circadian rhythm and daily routine.
This means that if we are constantly messing with our sleep cycle due to changes in time zones, drugs and alcohol, or other sleep disturbances, we could be doing damage in the long run. The importance of maintaining a regular sleep cycle is paramount to our health and can undoubtedly lead to a longer, healthier life.
Despite the common misconception that a night cap might help you sleep better, alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep, which is essential to brain function and memory. When we sleep, our bodies carry out a number of regenerative functions from rebuilding muscle tissue, to compartmentalizing and processing the day’s events.
When that REM sleep is interrupted, memory loss can ensue. Maybe this is why things might seem a little blurry the next day or the previous night’s events aren’t as easily recalled. This disturbance in the circadian rhythm might also be the cause behind hangover symptoms. As it turns out, after a night of drinking you’re probably just tired.
Another impediment to maintaining a consistent circadian rhythm is adjusting to different time zones. For those who travel often for work, even only a few hours’ time change can mess with your sleeping patterns, a.k.a. jet lag. Generally speaking, it takes about a day for every hour of change for your body to adjust its circadian rhythm.
Researchers have found that the change in time zones can provide a significant advantage to sports teams traveling west to east when playing games after 8 p.m. EST. Because in the U.S., the internal clocks of a team on the west coast are 3 hours behind those on the east coast, so a game being played after 8 p.m. is tantamount to west coast players playing in the late afternoon or early evening — a time when circadian performance is at its peak.
Our circadian rhythms are so sensitive that daylight savings time changes of just an hour have been linked with increased rates of heart attack and vehicular accidents. Aside from mere drowsiness, this is partially attributed to a hindrance of certain chemicals that are crucial to immune functions. When we sleep, the body heals itself and inflammatory responses go up. This is likely due to the fact that it focuses energy toward fighting bacteria and infection rather than other bodily functions, so when we don’t allow for that restorative process there is a greater likelihood of getting sick.
How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Part of the reason it can be difficult to fall asleep at night is because of our extreme photosensitivity. Even average room light can trick our brain into suppressing the release of melatonin, not to mention our constant exposure to artificial light from the screens of electronics.
But even if you make an effort the following night to go to bed early and limit exposure to light in the hour before bed, the SCN can remember the time it triggered melatonin secretion from the past few days. So, it really takes an effort of developing a strict routine in order to sustain a rhythm.
How to Reset Circadian Rhythm
Here are some methods to readjust your circadian rhythm, or shift it toward a more desirable schedule that fits your lifestyle.
- Expose yourself to sunlight or blue light. During the time you want to be awake, get as much sunlight as possible, and if sunlight isn’t available, expose yourself to short-wavelength blue light.
- Going without food for an extended period of time can reset the circadian rhythm because it tailors itself to your metabolism. A Harvard study found that for animals, if food was only available during a sleep cycle, their circadian rhythms adjusted to be awake then, and sleep when it wasn’t available. This is likely the case for humans as well, so if we adjust our dietary habits to align with the time we sleep, we might be able to hack the system.
- Try not to sleep in on the weekends or vary your sleep/wake pattern significantly. A drastic change one night might not have an effect, but consecutive nights of variance in your sleep schedule might lead to that social jet lag on Monday.
- Limit your exposure to electronics and the bright light produced by screens. If you must use your phone or computer before bed, there are apps that block or reduce melatonin-inhibiting blue light.
- Eat properly. This seems to be a no-brainer, but eating well and at the right hours is essential to attaining a regular circadian rhythm. It’s debatable whether eating just before bed is actually bad for you, but if you fluctuate your dinner schedule it can mess with your rhythm. Also consuming foods with high levels of sugar or caffeine before bed isn’t ideal.
As we learn more about how this bodily function works, it should lead to better science that helps us get the rest we need. Whether through methods of sleep hacking or just conscious discipline, we can fight back against lethargy.
How to Lucid Dream
Access to mystical realms is not reserved for the sages alone. Each night in dream time you have an opportunity to transcend the mundane and fly among all creation. Sleep is the state that unites all beings. A delicate respite of vulnerable slumber that we must all succumb. It is a mini death, entering the unknown landscape and the rebirth that morning brings. For those adventurous enough to transcend the material world, a portal to the universe awaits.
The most basic of human functions is the need for sleep. Yet deep within this nebulous state, awaits an opportunity for profound healing and spiritual evolution.
Lucid dreaming is a gate on any consciousness explorer’s journey.
Lucid dreams offer the quickest and most direct pathway to our spiritual destiny. Lucid dreaming is a state of consciousness, when we are aware that we are dreaming. Some might suggest it gives us the ability to control our dreams; this view is driven by ego. Lucid dreaming is best understood as a spiritual state present within each of us that heightens our human experience.
Dreams are our birthright and grant us access to the most potent channels of healing and spiritual enlightenment. Explore the steps below to cultivate your lucid dreaming skills.
KEEP A DREAM JOURNAL
Track your dreams to learn the themes and landscapes. If you dream of a passed relative or your childhood home, your mind recognizes this as a dream. The goal is to become cognizant of these motifs so your brain can alert you to your sleeping state.
It is best to write down your dreams upon first waking to capture as much as you can. Also, don’t jump out of bed in the morning. To record the most vivid details, stay in the same space and wake gently.
SET AN INTENTION
Before sleeping state, “I will remember my dreams. I will have a lucid dream.” This affirmation sets within your brain and body the fertile possibility for it to occur. When you can enter into sleep with a clear intention of what you want to experience, your brain can easily conspire to orchestrate this in lucid dream time.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
If your body and brain are tired, you won’t have enough time in the REM cycle to explore the spaces where lucid dreams occur. Go to bed a bit earlier to honor the sacred space you wish to traverse.
SET AN ALARM
Lucid dreams happen during the REM phase, a few hours before waking. Set an alarm to go off 1-2 hours before you normally wake. Stay awake for 15-30 minutes in a calm space and one which you can gently return to sleep. This will aid you in being more aware that you are dreaming.
LUCID DREAM TOOLS
There are many aids that can improve our chances of a lucid dream.
Quartz is a great stone for memory and can help you recall the details for your dream journal. If you want to up your likelihood of a lucid dream, scolecite and danburite when combined are powerful allies to trigger this state.
Binaural beats are sound frequencies that aid the brain by playing tones at slighted altered intervals. Specific waves to induce REM and our theta state have assist in lucid dreaming when played at the right sleep cycle.
LET TECHNOLOGY HELP
A plethora of apps exist to alert you when you are in REM and prepare you consciously for your lucid dream time. The Aurora Dream Headband goes one step further to detect brainwaves and flash mild lights when you reach REM. None of these will guarantee a lucid dream but they will significantly up your chances!
Sacred plants have long been a boon to the spiritually aware. There are many herbs to support lucid dreams including valerian root and mugwort. Your best bet is ready made blends you can find online and will save you countless trips to the apothecary.
Performed while awake, these playful tests will bleed over into your dream state to trigger the awareness that you are actually asleep.
- Push hands together – in a dream your hands will go through each other
- Pinch nostrils to stop breathing – in a dream breath will be unaffected
- Look at a book – in a dream, the words will change or be indecipherable
- Count – in a dream, easy brain functions like math and numbers don’t compute
- State “I am awake” – in a dream, state “I am dreaming”
When you want to move into the deep study of your dreams for healing and total transformation, dream yoga is the graduate level. It is an ancient practice employed by the Tibetan Buddhists. This observes the spiritual development that lucid dreams offer. As shamans honor the dream space for their continued work, so too do the yogis revere this time for continuing their mindfulness training.
Holecek states “The purpose of these practices is to integrate lucidity and flexibility with every moment of life and to let go of the heavily conditioned way we have of ordering reality, of making meaning, of being trapped in delusion.”
Learn more about the benefits of lucid dreaming below.