4 Ways To Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
by Nina Copleston | Old Green
Pre-industrialisation, our lives were far more connected with nature. In the long hot days of summer, we could work in the fields fuelled with the sun’s energy. As winter’s dark nights scooped up the light, we would wake later, sleep earlier, rest more. Like nature, we are constantly – albeit slowly – moving and changing. Our energy levels, our productivity, our enthusiasm to show up in the world are not a fixed state; they ebb and flow. Modern life, however, demands that we be relentlessly charged and forever pushing, grinding, and performing. Burn-out and stress are congratulated and validated. But this persistent pressure is not seen in nature – does the sun remain high in the sky, radiating burning heat all year long and never sinking beneath the horizon? Does snow cover the land perpetually, a Narnia where the White Witch was never defeated?
No. Seasons change. The earth moves. Oceans push and pull. The moon waxes and wanes. What if, we too, were allowed to listen to our own rhythms?
One way we can start to reconnect to these patterns is by resetting our circadian rhythm. All (or most) life on earth has its own circadian rhythm – an inner clock that regulates all sorts of biological processes in (around) 24-hour chunks. These systems are seen in humans, non-human animals, microorganisms and seem to be most impacted by levels of light and dark. Most famously, perhaps, ‘the sleep-wake cycle’.
As we gently move into the new year, here are 4 ways to feel more in sync with this mysterious cadence.
Natural light changes throughout the day. When you wake, it is best to surround yourself with bright light – echoing the strong beam of a sunrise. If you can, it is best to soak up as much natural light as possible – going for a walk in the morning, stepping outside with your morning coffee or even placing yourself by a window to absorb any rays. Alternatively, bright artificial lights in your home will help to wake and energise you throughout the morning.
During the winter months, if you are waking in the dark it may be helpful to reflect the pathway of the sun and have dim or low lighting in your home until the sun appears. Try lighting a candle in the morning or turning on a few soft lamps to ease you through the darkness until sunrise.
Stepping into the afternoon, blue light can help you feel motivated and invigorated. Artificial blue wavelengths are thought to mimic the rays emitted by the sun during the day. This means that, in healthy amounts, this sort of light can support us in feeling more alert and even uplifted (think about popping outside on a really sunny day – does your mood quickly improve?).
However, too much of this blue light can contribute to trouble sleeping. Blue-light inhibits melatonin production in humans, which is the hormone that helps us feel snoozy. This light glares out at us from our screens, so limiting screen-time before bed is a useful way to wind down and encourage rest. You could also try using filters on your electronic devices that limit this type of light.
Introducing warmer, more yellow, amber or reddish tones in the evening reflects the sinking colour-scape of the sun. You could achieve this through lamps with different tones of bulb, fairy-lights for a for a relaxing twinkle or candlelight for that soft melting glow. Slowly darkening your home will hopefully make you feel a little more sleepy and ready to drift into dreams.
One way to get back into sync with the sunshine is to go camping. When you are deep in nature, with muddy boots and a mugful of tea under a starlit sky – it is easy to feel more attuned with the earth. Can you hear the hooting of owls at night, the dawn chorus of blackbirds and robins or the soft patter of foxes and deer just peeping outside of your tent? Spending time with other living creatures can help us reset – physically, mentally, and spiritually – and also encourage us to wake with the sun and to sleep with the moon.
You don’t have to go camping, however. Any time at all in nature can help your circadian rhythm and lessen anxiety; levels of happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are believed to correlate with time spent outdoors. In this way, a mindful walk outside can do wonders for your wellbeing, even if only 10 minutes.
The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ (or shinrin-yoku) can help you to ground into Mother Nature and build a more peaceful relationship with your mind. This art encourages you to slow down amongst the trees, use your senses to connect with them and reduce the fight or flight response that our bodies are so accustomed to in the modern racing world. Mindfully noticing the small yet mighty moments in nature – the sparkle of dew on wet grass, the tiny footprints of a wandering bird, the spongy moss nestled into the bark of the Oak – help us to melt into the present moment.
Many also believe that trees are spiritual beings with universes of wisdom grounded into their endless roots. Taking the time to be amongst them can be a tonic to any worries or anxiety.
It is thought that the best time to perform more high-intensity exercise (to sync back into your circadian rhythm) is the morning to mid-afternoon. This is because hopefully you will have more energy during these hours (just like the sun!). As you move into the evening, movement such as stretching, yoga or a gentle walk outside may help you to unwind and shake off any cobwebs without waking yourself up too much before bed.
If you can, sticking to consistent wake and bedtimes can help your body relax into its rhythm. To aid sleep, try putting your phone away an hour before bed – or even sleeping with it in another room (and returning to the good ole’ fashioned alarm clock!). Swap out your caffeinated drink in the evening for a herbal tea or a hot calming drink (such as a heated plant milk with a dash of cinnamon).
Relaxation techniques may provide some ease too. Try popping a timer on for 5 minutes, sitting in a comfortable position (maybe on a cushion on the floor) and simply breathing in and out. Every time a thought pops up, rather than attach to it, just watch it come and go like a leaf on a stream and return to focusing on your breath.
In place of your phone, pop a book or a notebook and a pen by your bed so that if at night/in the morning you reach for your phone, you will find those instead. In the morning, to encourage you to wake up with your alarm (or to make that move from bed a bit easier!) try and establish a short ritual that brings you happiness. Associating self-care, or a joyful experience, with wake-up time will hopefully make it a little sweeter. For example, 5 minutes of: reading your book, writing a gratitude list, making a coffee in your favourite mug, lighting a candle, having a dance to your favourite song etc.
In the winter, it can feel hard to find balance, maintain positivity or feel uplifted amongst the dark mornings and chill of night. Those severe mornings of defrosting the car with cold-bitten fingers or that journey home on the train where the world feels as if it is sleeping. However, now that the Winter Solstice has passed, with each new day we are gaining another moment or two of light. As life beneath the frost-covered ground is still humming – ready to bloom in the spring – we too will bloom again. For now, gently tuning into your circadian rhythm may help to make these months a little softer.
Contributing writer: Nina Copleston – Old Green
Old Green is a sustainable homeware brand, dedicated to creating homes that provide sanctuary, protect mother nature and show consideration for every step of the supply chain. By rescuing waste materials and handcrafting them into beautiful items for your home, we hope to inspire a sense of longevity over throwaway, and conscious curation over the never-ending current of trends.
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