Our internal clocks are one of the most fascinating ways we connect with nature on a daily basis. The internal clock, or body clock, correlates with the idea of the circadian rhythm – a 24-hour cycle that helps us feel awake during daytime and sleepy at night.
When everything is working correctly, our internal clock helps to keep us on schedule. We naturally feel more awake when exposed to light (originally sunlight) and naturally start to wind down as the sun goes down and the temperatures drop.
It’s easy for things to get off track, however, and our bodies fall out of sync with this natural rhythm. Winter is a particularly vulnerable time of year, as our body’s natural cues like sunlight are reduced. Many people experience more fatigue (and even depression) in wintertime which leads to more time spent in bed - and the disruption of our circadian rhythm.
Winter is the best season to rest and restore, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of our natural body clocks. Read on to understand more about our circadian rhythm and what you can do to keep a healthy sleep cycle all winter long.
The Science Behind The Circadian Rhythm
So, what exactly is the circadian rhythm? Like many topics in neuroscience, we’re still learning more about this intriguing aspect of our brain. What we do know, however, is that this rhythm is regulated by a group of nerves located in the hypothalamus. This grouping is known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and is the basis for your internal clock. It acts as a master signaling center that calls for the release of hormones, temperature modification, and metabolism shifts in response to the environment.
As darkness sets in and the temperature drops at night, your body produces melatonin, a hormone that triggers rest. Physically and mentally, your body responds to this and prepares for sleep. With the light of day and rising temperatures, your body naturally wakes and stirs. Just like clockwork.
Changes In The Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is not simply black and white. Rather than one awake stage and one sleeping stage, we actually have dips throughout the day. Have you noticed a mid-afternoon slump between 1PM and 3PM? Part of your post-lunch crash could be due to dips in your natural circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm can also vary slightly from person to person. A “morning person” will have a slightly different cycle and internal clock than someone who prefers to sleep late or get a slow start to the day. Similarly, others love to stay up late or find their best creativity flows after 10PM. These differences are all due to our individual circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms also change throughout the lifetime. Teenagers are primed to stay up late and sleep late because of fluctuations in the circadian rhythm. As we age, we tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier and require less sleep in general.
An Unnatural Rhythm
If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you know firsthand how disruptive it can be when our body clocks are off. We’re not sure when to sleep, our energy rushes at the wrong time, and our digestion even falls off track.
Living in tune with our body’s internal clock helps to prevent illness and encourage wellbeing and good health. Listening to our body’s natural cues for rest and activity can help us stay on top of our cycle and enjoy all the benefits of living in tune with nature.
Aside from traveling to different time zones, there are many other ways we can disrupt our circadian rhythms. Late nights at work or pulling an all-nighter can make falling asleep at a normal hour more difficult. You end up tired during the day but wired at night, a cycle that can be difficult to break.
Those who have shift work careers or irregular schedules often struggle with regulating their circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, this can throw off more than just your sleep schedule. Studies have shown that women who work night shifts have a higher chance of struggling with infertility or miscarriage. An imbalanced circadian rhythm can also lead to higher stress and other health concerns.
Winter And The Circadian Rhythm
Keeping a healthy routine that matches your natural body clock is important during any time of year, but winter can be particularly tricky. A lack of sunlight, cold temperatures, high stress, and mental health struggles like Seasonal Affective Disorder or increased depression often increase in the winter months.
During winter, we need to pay special attention to our circadian rhythms and make sure we stay on track. Doing so will help us feel more rested, keep our immune systems strong, and prevent those winter blues.
Here are a few tips for living in-tune with our circadian rhythm all winter long:
- Keep your sleep schedule, even if you feel like sleeping in. Dark mornings make it harder for us to wake up, but excess sleeping can cause us to lose sight of our cycle.
- Move in the morning. To help train your brain that it’s morning (even on the darkest days), exercise first thing. Go for a brisk walk, stretch in your living room, or try a wake-up exercise routine. Movement will signal that it’s get active.
- Go to bed earlier. It’s natural to crave extra time in bed during the winter, but spend it at night rather than in the morning. The sun naturally sets earlier so it’s perfectly normal to retire to bed earlier as well.
- Reduce screen time. This tip is important for a healthy circadian rhythm year-round, but can be crucial in winter. The light emitted from our TVs, computers, and phones stimulate the brain similar to sunlight, but without all the benefits. Turn off the screens 1-2 hours before bed and spend time doing more calm activities like reading, tidying, or taking a soothing bath.
- Make bedtime a sacred ritual. If we took care of our sleep like many of us care for our skin or hair, we’d all be sleeping beauties. The easiest way to keep on schedule with our circadian rhythms in winter is to honor our sleep. Enjoy a nighttime routine, meditate, and curl up under a weighted blanket to make your bed the perfect place to stay on schedule.
Put On Some “Weight” This Winter
We’re not talking about adding weight around our middles (although a little bit in winter is normal). We’re talking about layering on a weighted blanket!
Weighted blankets are a simple and effective way to ensure good quality sleep, every night. Sleeping with a weighted blanket helps you fall asleep faster, stay asleep through the night, and banish the anxiety and depression that so often keep us up at night.
Deep Touch Pressure is the science behind the magic. Under a weighted blanket, you’re getting a gentle, relaxing hug that signals to your brain: sleep! When we get amazing sleep, we don’t need much help sticking to our internal clocks or finding the energy to take on the day. We are well-rested, happy, and in-tune.
The Bearaby weighted blanket is the perfect solution for winter nights. The cozy, chunky-knit design of the Napper helps to keep you warm on a winter’s night while providing the right amount of weight, air-flow, and comfort to keep you snoozing ‘til morning.
Improving Your Sleep in the Wintertime
Read on to understand more about our circadian rhythm and what you can do to keep a healthy sleep cycle all winter long.
Our internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is a group of nerves that interacts with our environment to keep our sleep-wake cycle in tune with nature.
The dark and cold days of winter can cause more than seasonal depression. It can be more difficult to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm which leads to other health concerns.
Weighted blankets might be the coziest way to get the best sleep this winter. Research shows they help to improve sleep and reduce anxiety.
Did you know?
Bears can reduce their body temperatures to almost freezing and their heart rates to only 8 beats per minute during hibernation.