The Importance of a Healthy Circadian Rhythm

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All too many people understand how frustrating it is to lay awake in bed at night unable to stop the mind from racing and drift off to sleep. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, various sleep surveys and studies indicate that 10 to 30 percent of adults live with chronic insomnia, with other studies showing that number is closer to 50 to 60 percent. Insomnia, which the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s ICSD-3 manual defines as “persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation, or quality,” can be caused by a number of reasons. Some of the most common include chronic medical conditions, social isolation, and higher use of prescription medications, as well as factors like unhealthy sleep habits and stress that cause insomnia across all age groups. Unfortunately, according to UC Davis Health, insomnia has been afflicting more individuals than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dubbed “coronasomnia” or “COVID-somnia,” sleep experts have attributed this increase in sleep issues to pandemic-related stress, significant changes in daily routines, and decreased physical activity.

Not only has the pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns led to skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression—common culprits behind insomnia—but working and living mostly at home have caused people to keep irregular schedules, with more individuals working at night and sleeping during the day. In the evenings, people are also taking in unprecedented levels of blue light from their devices instead of naturally adjusting to the gradual darkness in preparation for bedtime. These inconsistencies have had serious consequences, the most severe of which is the highly concerning disruption of people’s circadian rhythms. But what exactly is a circadian rhythm, and why is circadian health so important? “Circadian rhythms are essential to our wellbeing because, literally, as the name implies, they set the rhythm of our daily lives,” says Alex Dimitriu, M.D., founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine (CA). “Circadian rhythms will determine everything from the best time to sleep, eat, make love, exercise, and perform at your peak capacity mentally and physically.”

Essentially, they are our internal clocks and control a multitude of biological processes, from eating and digestion to blood pressure and immune response. These systems, including sleep, run on a 24-hour cycle. When they are disturbed, the overall health and wellness of the body is threatened and can lead to premature aging of the skin, weakened immune response, heart disease, gut disease, allergies, cancer, metabolic syndrome, mood disorders, and reproductive issues. However, maintaining a constant circadian rhythm is often easier said than done. Sustaining one largely depends on being exposed to the right amount and type of light throughout the day, but that process has been thrown into disarray by the artificial- and blue light-filled, 24/7 lifestyles of today.

To help people maintain a constant circadian rhythm, there are devices that filter out blue light as well as various sleep tracking tools with functions like automatically dimming the lights, lowering room temperature, producing sleep conducive sounds and scents, giving personalized sleep advice, and tracking sleep patterns. Additionally, resorts and spas have started introducing technology and treatments specially curated to help visitors get back in tune with their inner biological clocks. These devices, tools, and offerings can help clients relax, sleep better, and live healthier.

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