‘The Three Rs’ first appeared in the 1800’s as the basic requirements in education – reading, writing, and arithmetic, but has since been adopted by various other organisations (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle being one of the better known examples).

Keeping with this alliterative theme, I’ve been thinking a lot recently of the importance of:

Rhythm, Ritual, and Routine

Let’s begin with Rhythm

Now I’m not referring to rhythm in the musical sense (and as a reminder of the importance phrasing your search Google correctly, here’s what I found when I keyed in ‘rhythm of life’ – enjoy!), I’m referring instead to the natural rhythms of life on this planet.

We are surrounded by natural rhythms, from the seasons, to sunrise and sunset, from the ebb and flow of tides, to the menstrual cycle.  Our lives are governed by these rhythms.  Birds can tell when it’s time to have chicks, bears can tell when it’s time to hibernate, simply by the length of the day.

I’ve already written about the importance of working with the seasons here.  So let’s now take a look at your 24hr circadian rhythm. 

Your circadian rhythm connects to the ‘Master Clock’ of your body – the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – which is the conductor to all the other mini-clocks you have going on inside you every day of our lives.  This Master Clock is set by the dawn/dusk cycle of your day which is transmitted through special light sensors in your eyes.  Did you know that even if you are completely blind your body can still sense whether it’s light, or dark?

Why do you need a body clock at all?  Well if you can predict it will be dawn or dusk in a couple of hours, your body can prepare for what’s ahead – which gives you an advantage.

The good stuff

Your circadian rhythm regulates

  • Your sleep schedule (you need 7-8hrs per night)
  • Appetite (breakfast like a King, or Queen!)
  • Body temperature
  • Hormone levels (Cortisol levels peak at 9am)
  • Alertness
  • Daily performance
  • Blood pressure (lowest at 3am)
  • Reaction times

The importance of sleep

Did you know that 36% of your life is spent sleeping?  During sleep your brain is busy with:

  • Information processing
  • Memory consolidation
  • Toxin clearance
  • Tissue repair
  • Rebuilding metabolic pathways
  • Restoring energy levels

So what happens when your sleep is disrupted by working night shifts, or by jet lag for example?

Sleep Disruption

If your normal sleep pattern is disturbed it will impact your cognitive function, your physical health, and your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Cognitive impacts:

  • Impaired memory
  • Lack of creativity – solutions to problems
  • Poor attention
  • The need for micro-sleeps

Physical impacts

  • Immune suppression
  • Increased risk of cancer, or infection
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

Mental and emotional impacts

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • The need for stimulants such as caffeine, or sedatives like sleeping pills
  • Impulsive behaviour

Unfortunately, modern life requires us to live by social clocks rather than circadian clocks.  The sleep hormone melatonin starts to be released at 9pm but if you’re working until 6 or 7pm, then coming home to eat, and spend time with your family (or run your kids to their various clubs), then going to bed at 9pm is going to be a challenge.

Nevertheless, one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your wellbeing is to have a regular sleep routine, and get as much natural light as possible.

Little things can make a difference

In the morning start the day with some exercise (ideally outside), and have a substantial breakfast.  In the evening turn the lights down low and switch all screens off at least  30 minutes before you go to sleep.  Go to bed at the same time each night, wake up at the same time each morning.

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of sleep and the circadian rhythm why not check the following out?

Dr Russell Foster – Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University

Books on the subject:

Look after yourself x

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