By Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
Our environment, diet and lifestyle routines, as well as stress and emotional health have an influence on how our circadian rhythm or biological clock effects hormone regulation, energy, restful sleep, and digestion. For example, research shows that circadian rhythm has an effect on our gut microbiome.
"Your body's natural clock regulates your hormones, affects your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients, affects immune function, eliminates toxins, and helps regulate your insulin and stress responses. If this system is out of whack it can result in poor sleep, digestive issues, cravings, weight dysregulation, and stress intolerance." - Marc Ryan, L.Ac.
One example of how circadian rhythm and and its influences are circular opposed to linear is frequent nighttime urination. For example, during the day we urinate as necessary. At night, the body slows this process down during rest and relaxation sleep mode. In order to achieve deep sleep and turn off daytime urination mode the nervous system requires innervation of the parasympathetic nervous system. If circadian rhythm is off and perceived and non-perceived sources of stress active, and sleep is light, it’s enough to stress blood sugar balance and to keep the physical body in a daytime urinary state. Therefore, not only the kidney and bladder need attention, so does one’s circadian rhythm, stress levels, and blood sugar health.
“I like to make my routine as regular as possible so it makes time for love and grace to seep in.” – Sara Gottfried
What is Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythm is our body’s clock that cues an internal system of knowing for sleep, food, and activity, associated with physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light, darkness, and temperature in an organism's environment. It is found in most living things, including animals, plants and many tiny microbes. The study of circadian rhythms is called chronobiology.
I love how Claudia Welch, author of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, explains the importance of routine, which influences circadian rhythm:
“Routine timing of meals, activity, and sleep promises nourishment of both doing (yang) and being (yin), within predictable exposures to seasonal light and temperature that directly influences our body-mind responses. For example, sunlight and moonlight influences the pineal gland, which communicates with the hypothalamus to regulate hormones that effect innate cues for food, sleep, activity, and motivation. Thus, maintaining consistent meal, activity, and sleep times can nourish biorhythms and in effect your whole health state. This can be as easy as starting with taking a long walk in nature at the same time every day.” – Claudia Welch
The Chinese Medicine Circadian Clock
The ancient Chinese medicine circadian clock is an effective guide to help optimize the body's fluctuating biorhythms throughout the day. As you can see the 24 hour clock has 12 segments that are 2 hours each. Each segment corresponds to meridian qi circulation and an organ, which gives insight into its time of highest potential functioning. These optimal times throughout the day's internal and environmental shifts indicate best times to be active, to eat, sleep, etc for optimal health, healing, and prevention of disease.
Acupuncturists are keen observers of patterns, routines, and rhythms, therefore I use a lot of these principles in my practice. For example, I encourage my patients to eat their largest meal at lunch as this is when digestive yang fire is at its peak (as reflected by the yang sun energy), and to avoid raw foods at dinner as this is when raw is harder to digest. Going to bed by 10 pm is another healthful habit as this ensures the liver and gallbladder have time to cleanse and restore blood while at rest. When this clock is perpetually interrupted health disharmony can arise.
Acupuncture To Help Balance Our Biological Clock
Acupuncture is an effective therapy for circadian rhythm balancing. Points that lie along meridians and facial planes that are loaded with nervous system receptors stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that are involved in regulating biological rhythms. For example, the point Yintang is close in proximity to the pineal gland (melatonin producer), which has an influence on the pituitary gland (master hormone gland). I love this point for patients who spend long hours in front of the computer screen as it helps to regulate the effect of EMF exposure, calms the mind, and relaxes the eyes.
What Is Circadian Rhythm Most Effected By?
Modern day living can easily disrupt circadian rhythms through stressful go-go-go lifestyles, poor sleep hygiene, lack of natural light exposure, blue light exposure from screens, and electromagnetic frequencies from electronics and electrical outlets. Because of this increased fuzz and buzz the body-mind can become stressed, leading to exacerbated stress-hormone imbalance, sleep disorders, digestive complaints, and stalled healing. Ideally, 6 – 9 hours of sleep per night is recommended for overall well-being.
"EMF does not wear down the adrenals but it causes excessive vibrations in the cellular matrix affecting every cell in the body. EMF is a form of energy field, and all energy fields work by and through electricity, and that on the basic orthomolecular level means vibration to a certain degree. After a long period of time, the ongoing vibration can cause more and more stress in the body, thereby affecting the adrenals." - @drlamchoaching
10 Tips To Optimize Circadian Rhythm For Well-being
To restore mind-body rhythm, honour the habit of routines. Integrate 2 - 3 of the following tips into your life for a month or so to see how it feels.
1. Go outside to soak up natural light exposure daily for at least 15 minutes. First thing in the morning is ideal. This will boost serotonin and melatonin for mood and sleep. If it’s cloudy season purchase a ‘light box’ and allow it to indirectly shine on you for 15 – 20 minutes first thing in the morning while you’re reading or in the kitchen. Rituals nurture rhythm. Prior to or after exercise create a personal morning ritual. For example, stretching, inspirational reading, meditation, journalling, and/or meal preparation for the day.
2. Stick to timed routines to support internal rhythms and a healthy stress response. Go to bed, wake up, exercise, and set your meal times at roughly the same time every day. For example, regular timed meals encourage your body’s natural release of digestive enzymes before meals.
Note: "During the day your sympathetic nervous system puts your body into an energy burning mode and at night your parasympathetic nervous system puts your body into an energy replenishing relax and sleep mode. This is why Chinese medicine recommends eating larger, more carbohydrate and protein heavy meals early in the day, so you provide fuel for that energy burning. This is also why normal cortisol peaks in the morning and gradually diminishes and melatonin peaks at night". - Marc Ryan, L.Ac.
3. Feel your feet on earth's surface daily and regularly forest bathe to detox from electronics and to soak in positive ions and nature’s essence. Leave your phone at home.
4. Set device boundaries. Limit screen time throughout the day. Aim to turn off screens (computer, phones, and tv) 3 hours before bedtime and put them away in a dedicated place. If 3 hours is not possible for you consider purchasing blue light blocker glasses online.
5. Meditate daily. Aim for 5 – 20 minutes each morning and evening. For meditation, print off a ‘How to meditate’ guide at www.tarabrach.com.
6. Nurture your room. Dim light to boost melatonin production (with blackout curtains if necessary), make sure the temperature is comfortable, remove tv’s and cell phones from your room and set to airplane mode. Consider investing in a pillow or two that’s ‘just right’.
7. Set your sleep schedule and stick to it. As a reminder from tip #2, our body’s respond well to routine and will start to naturally feel tired around a set time. Allow yourself to feel tired from the day.
8. Wind down an hour or two before sleeping, and get into a deep relaxed state prior to bed. Refrain from exercising (stretching and walking is okay), working, or snacking (see note below) right before bed. Take a warm bath with calming essential oils, journal, meditate (tip #6), and/or read. Use a himalayan salt lamp to limit light exposure. Consider using a spoonk acupressure mat for 20 minutes before bed, and/or a lavender eye pillow. Note: Some people find they benefit from having a small evening snack to regulate blood sugar throughout the night, for example a collagen protein mixed into sleepy time tea, honey to sweeten, and 1/2 a handful of nuts or seeds.
9. During the night do not turn on lights while getting up to urinate as this can halt melatonin production. Nighttime Mouth taping is something to consider if you're a mouth breather during the night, as nostril breathing ensures quality, restful sleep.
10. If you can’t sleep refer back to sleep tips above and consider holistic nutrition, medical herbalism, hypnotherapy, and/or naturopathic medicine to discuss supplementation, diet, and stress reduction for sleep.
I hope my post has given you insight today. If you’re interested in acupuncture to compliment circadian rhythm balancing I’d be happy to guide you along. Please visit www.vcaspa.com to book online. To learn more about my acupuncture practice, follow @hayley_stobbs on Instagram.
In health & happiness,
Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC