A new way to sleep
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Our circadian rhythm is our internal clock, and understanding it can help ensure a better night’s sleep.
Learn more about what our circadian rhythm is, how it works and, importantly, how it affects the quality of our sleep.
What is our circadian rhythm?
Our circadian rhythm is our internal clock which tells our bodies when to do things, like eat and sleep.
How does our circadian rhythm work?
Our exposure to sunlight is the main way that we control our circadian rhythm. Our eyes not only process what we see, but there is also a separate neural pathway to our suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), whose sole job is to monitor light levels.
When your eyes see the maximum brightness of light (or lux) of the day, then your brain flags this as midday, and our 24-hour circadian rhythm clock is anchored around that point.
If your maximum sunlight exposure of the day is when you go home from work at 5pm, instead of nipping out at lunchtime, then your circadian rhythm may want you to go to bed later and wake up later than you would like, as it thinks that 5pm was actually midday.
How does the circadian rhythm affect sleep?
Your circadian rhythm is responsible for producing a hormone called melatonin. This hormone regulates sleep. We naturally produce melatonin to help us go to sleep, around 8 to 10 hours after our maximum sunlight exposure of the day (see above).
If we try to sleep when our circadian rhythm thinks it is daytime, it can be very difficult to sleep. You may have experienced this when you have traveled to another country (commonly known as ‘jetlag’) because your body’s circadian rhythm is in another time zone.