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Circadian Rhythm Imbalance: My Top Tips for Better Sleep!
What exactly is “circadian rhythm”? Here is the main definition for it: “A daily cycle of biological activity based on a 24-hour period and influenced by regular variations in the environment, such as the alternation of night and day.” (source)
Circadian rhythm is technically a process that our bodies have that help us to be awake during the day, and asleep at night. However in our current world, it is incredibly easy for us to mess up this cycle! An imbalance in circadian rhythm has the potential to lead to blood pressure issues, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, and more.
What causes this imbalance? Nutrient deficiencies or imbalances, stress, poor diet, and even something as simple as white light exposure at night (which is one of the biggest causes of a cortisol/melatonin imbalance). Let’s learn about these causes!
Fixing the Cortisol/Melatonin Imbalance
In a perfect world, cortisol would be higher in the morning and slowly start to decline as the day goes on, and be pretty low at night. Melatonin should be the opposite: we want melatonin lower in the morning and higher at night. This is because cortisol plays a role in overall energy through the day, while melatonin helps us sleep at night. When we are dealing with adrenal issues (aka HPA axis dysfunction), it is so common to have these hormones flipped.
The main helpers that I have found for fixing this imbalance (other than the tips that are listed further below) are:
- Tart Cherry Juice: This has a natural source of melatonin which helps to regulate sleep patterns. Look for organic if possible. There are pure juices and then concentrates, so be sure to read instructions if you try this method out. You can even make tart cherry gummies!
- Limiting screen time at night: the light that we are exposed to from TVs, computers, cell phones, etc are all considered to be “white light” which is known for stimulating cortisol production. We do not want this at night! Limit screen time at night and try to cut it off completely about an hour or 2 before bed; or get blue-light apps (f.lux for Android, or Night Shift on iPhones 5s and above, which comes automatically with the phone now).
- Blue Light Blocking Glasses: These are one of the easiest helpers for regulating cortisol/melatonin. Ideally, we should use these as the sun goes down, but at least 2 hours before bed seems to help most people. These glasses help the body to stimulate melatonin on its own ( I just got a pair myself a few months ago and highly recommend them!)
- Getting sun in the morning: This helps to stimulate cortisol production in the morning, which helps to keep levels stable through the day, especially when used in conjunction with the above 3 tips. If sun is not an option in the morning for whatever reason, you can use something like this lamp.
- I do NOT recommend supplementing with melatonin. This is a hormone. When we consume hormones we can create many other imbalances, and we can even confuse our body to a point where it stops its own production of melatonin
- Adaptogens can also be helpful, but these can take a bit of time to find what works best for you. Read more about adaptogens here! I love Herb Pharm’s Aviva blends (3 to choose from), Herb Pharm’s Stress Manager, or BioRay’s Loving Energy.
Nutrients that play a role in better sleep
No matter where you go these days, everyone seems to be talking about vitamin D. However, we really should be putting more of a focus on vitamin A! It is every more crucial for overall health. You can read the whole awesome breakdown on how vitamin A influences circadian rhythm here. Seriously, it is a great article! One main quote from this article, ” Thus, without vitamin A, our brains cannot know when it is daytime and cannot set our circadian rhythm. If this system fails, we are less likely to feel alert in the daytime, less likely to feel relaxed in the night time, and less likely to get adequate, regular, restful sleep.”
Vitamin A deficiency is extremely common these days. Why, you ask? Great question! Mostly it is because we have been lied to about what vitamin A really is. You see, foods like carrots and sweet potatoes don’t actually contain vitamin A. They contain beta carotene, which has the potential to be CONVERTED to vitamin A. Only 50 of the 600 or so carotenoids can even be converted to actual A.
We also need happy livers to utilize vitamin A correctly (we also need happy livers for SLEEP too!), which is another factor in why many people are deficient- most are dealing with some level of liver dysfunction. So things like herbal bitters and overall help with bile flow is necessary for proper use of vitamin A. The best sources of vitamin A are cod liver oil, liver (beef, chicken, etc), eggs, grass-fed butter, ghee, and even grass-fed dairy. (Notice how ALL of these foods have been demonized in the past or present- most people have not grown up eating beef liver or cod liver oil like our grandparents and great-grandparents did!).
Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium
These 3 minerals play huge roles in overall health. It is important to use a tool like HTMA to determine where your personal imbalances are before trying to increase or avoid any particular mineral. Magnesium is usually important for those with high cortisol and over-active adrenals, where potassium and sodium are the most important for those with overall low cortisol output and under-active adrenals. These 3 minerals have a delicate balance, but potassium itself is a common deficiency related to burnout. When potassium is under a 4 on the HTMA, it is a huge cause of insomnia and adrenal dysfunction. You can read a bit more on these 3 minerals here.
Copper plays a role in insomnia when it becomes out of balance. Excess, unbound copper can be irritating to the nerves and is a common cause of racing mind, anxiety, and inability to fall or stay asleep. You can read more about copper imbalances here.
Diet and Gut Health
Diet plays such a huge role in overall health and well-being. If you are eating junk, you will feel like junk- period. Common offenders in our diets that can impact our sleep are artificial colors and flavors, artificial sweeteners, MSG, caffeine, GMO sugar, and even intolerances to gluten or conventional dairy can play a role. Everyone is so different when it comes to diet though, and there is not just *one* main thing for everyone to focus on. It takes trial and error to figure out what might be harming you.
In truth, a huge part of why we have intolerances is because of leaky gut. So healing the gut is a crucial step in healing from any health issue, including sleep problems.
Almost everyone is under some sort of stress. Whether it is chronic or acute, this can have a huge impact on our sleep. Stress can negatively impact our gut, our adrenals, and it can deplete us of crucial nutrients like magnesium and zinc. Here are a few ways that you can help lower your stress levels so you can get quality sleep:
- Yoga- everyone knows about yoga, but not everyone likes doing it. Yoga has been one of the most popular ways to help de-stress for a long time. Even finding a few yoga positions that help you can help immensely. I like legs-on-the-wall, child’s pose, cat-and-cow, and corpse pose
- EFT (aka Tapping)- Emotional Freedom technique is not new, but it has been garnering a lot of attention over the last few years in the natural health field. This method used meridian tapping to harness your body’s energy to heal itself
- Buteyko breathing- A friend introduced me to this method , and I will forever be grateful. It truly is a great way to calm yourself down before bed, or if you wake up in the middle of the night. It actually helps the healing of a lot of different ailments as well!
- Find a hobby- this is probably the simplest method to help stress, but it is the most overlooked. Find something that you love to do and try to do it daily. Reading, writing, drawing, painting, walking, bike riding, photography, anything you can think of that will get you away from the TV and off of the couch.