If you have trouble waking up in the morning or falling asleep at night, or you experience a major drop in energy in the afternoon, it might be time to consider getting in touch with your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles over a 24-hour period. This clock is also connected to the regulation of important hormones such as cortisol, which makes us feel awake in the morning, and melatonin, which helps us feel sleepy before bed.
How Circadian Rhythm Impacts Adrenal Health
It used to be thought that there was only one central hub of this “body clock” in the brain, but research shows that there are also tissues outside of the brain that have their own circadian rhythms, including the adrenal glands. This was an important discovery because if the central circadian rhythm (brain controlled) is not in line with the peripheral rhythms (outside of the brain), HPA axis dysfunction can occur, leading to conditions such as adrenal fatigue.
Research points to three major factors that can cause a misalignment between the central and peripheral circadian clocks:
- altered light and dark exposure,
- irregular eating routines, and
- erratic activity and rest cycles.
When these occur, your body can feel out of whack, and like its natural cycles are out of order. So what can you do about it, to circumvent a potential adrenal issue?
4 Lifestyle Changes to Make to Help Prevent Adrenal Fatigue
To best support your circadian rhythm and adrenal health, implement the following 4 changes to your daily routine.
Daylight exposure upon waking
Exposing your eyes to natural daylight upon waking helps the brain clear out any leftover melatonin stores from your night of sleep, signaling to your brain that it is time to be awake and start the day. Aim to spend 15 minutes outside or at a window right when you wake up. Even if the sun isn’t shining, the light of day still does the trick!
To become even more connected with the rhythm of the sun, try both being outside in the morning upon walking and again being outside in the evening as the sun is setting to help sync your internal rhythm with nature’s rhythm.
Those with adrenal fatigue can find it beneficial to exercise in the morning to help stimulate the body’s release of cortisol. Avoiding intense exercise near bedtime also helps keep your circadian rhythm in balance.
Hot tip: An easy way to combine light exposure and morning movement is by exercising outside or near a window during the beginning of your day!
Consistent meal times
Our nervous systems LOVE routine, which is why it can be helpful to eat around the same each day. This helps send the message to your adrenals that your body is “safe” and food (aka energy) is available.
That being said, it is important to tap into your body’s hunger cues and avoid eating just for the sake of it being “time to eat.” Taking some time to prepare some healthy snacks and meals for your day/week ahead helps ensure that you have nourishing food to fuel your body when you do become hungry.
Avoid blue-light exposure before bedtime
Let’s face it—technology is here to stay, and it isn’t always realistic to limit the use of screens in the evening. However, what is so problematic about using screens near bedtime is the blue-light they emit. This light wipes out the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin that our bodies produce at night that primes us for bedtime.
Protect your melatonin stores by wearing blue-light blocking glasses and turning on “night-mode” on your electronics after dinnertime. Aim to stop electronic use one hour before bedtime and choose to partake in calming activities instead, such as taking a warm shower or bath, yin-yoga, reading, or meditation.
Dr. Jones graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and with a Master of Science in Nutrition degree. She believes that the most important part of any treatment plan is first establishing a solid foundation of health. This looks different for each patient and changes over time, and Dr. Jones’ guidance on your health journey will depend on your needs.