Do you get through your day wishing you could take a nap or needing that extra hit of caffeine? You're certainly not alone. Our go, go, go lifestyle tends to make us feel tired and sluggish when our energy should be strong and steady...and completely wired (thanks to the caffeine) when it's time to wind down and get to bed for the night. This daily erratic pattern only messes up your circadian rhythm (your body's natural 24-clock) and leaves you in a vicious cycle of feeling tired during the day, and wide awake at night.
While people used to wake up when the sun rose, and went to bed when the sun set, that's not what it's like today. And unless you want to rearrange your lifestyle to sleep like that, what else can you do to avoid this cycle of "wired and tired" burnout and still keep your circadian rhythm in order?
Follow these four tips to keep you energized and alert all day long:
1. Get off the caffeine
OK, OK, I know there are a million studies touting the benefits of coffee. Just hear me out, please. When you add caffeine to an already stressed and dysfunctional circadian rhythm, you're only making things worse. This is coming from a former coffee lover who adored pour overs and going to coffee shops just to sit and sip, by the way.
I too, had to break-up with coffee and it was hard. Not just "going through withdrawals" hard, but hard in the sense of "what do I drink first thing in the morning", "what do I do when I need a pick-me-up cup", "how do I use the coffee shop Wi-Fi without feeling guilty" kind of way. But it was worth it. Without the caffeine, your circadian rhythm isn't artificially being energized, letting you listen better to what your body is trying to tell you.
2. Eight hours of sleep is mandatory
Yes, I know there are some people who can run off of three to four hours of sleep per night but that is not the norm. According to WebMD, most everyone needs seven to nine hours of sleep each and every night. For everyone who says they can get by on much less, here are a few questions:
How much caffeine do you consume throughout the day?
How healthy are you? Do you have any diagnosed illnesses?
How often do you get sick? How quickly do you recover from an illness?
Do you need to lose weight?
As this Health article outlines, sleep helps us fight illness, maintain a healthy weight and can help fight depression (among other things). I know the importance of sleep for brain health as well as overall health and try to get an average of eight hours per night.
3. Stop exercising too much
Many people use exercise as a way to de-stress. It's a great tool for this, however it can be a double-edged sword if you're stuck in the tired and wired circle. Exercising too much or exercising too close to bedtime (post-workout insomnia) can keep you awake, further altering your natural circadian rhythm. Stick to workouts that are 2-3 hours before your bedtime, and try doing a lower intensity routine in the evenings. Switch your cardio for a walk (or yoga) and remember to stay well hydrated (with water, not coffee).
I can't recommend this enough. Taking time to sit and be still is such a powerfully calming tool. Start small: 1-2 minutes once a day in a quiet dark room. This is a process and takes time to adjust to, so you aren't going to be perfect at it. Your mind will race, you will have a hard time keeping it clear, but these are things that you work towards. Read all about the benefits of meditation and get to meditating.
So here you go, four steps to get you started on the path to resetting your confused circadian rhythm. You'll feel more energized during the day and be able to sleep better at night once you fall in the right pattern - which is something we all need.
Jessica is a certified FDN Practitioner based in Pennsylvania and the owner of Optimize To Thrive - a practice that uses functional lab testing and personalized health plans to get patients on the road to recovery.