If your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your ability to get quality sleep will suffer. But it isn’t just about sleep – the circadian rhythm is a key player in many aspects of your health including stress, energy levels, and even weight loss. Read on to learn more about how you can keep a healthy and balanced circadian rhythm.
For an executive summary of this post, read:
The Circadian Rhythm In Pictures
About Your Circadian Rhythm
Here’s a simple way to think about the circadian rhythm. The body has thousands of processes going on at any given moment. Many of these processes function better in concert with other processes – just like in a symphony, where different sounds work better with other sounds.
These processes have a certain rhythm or flow. The body conducts this orchestra with ‘clock genes’, which get activated in many cells in the body in a synchronized way.
Research over the past few decades has recognized the importance of circadian biology in obesity.
Circadian biology has a massive influence on energy balance and metabolism .
Many hormone receptors have been observed to exhibit circadian rhythms of expression .
The daily timing of food intake has itself been shown to affect body weight regulation in mammals through the regulation of genes that control metabolism .
The Circadian Rhythm and Protein Recycling/Autophagy
At the protein level, a healthy cell will progress through a daily cycle of alternating metabolic states directed by the circadian system, with proteins going through cycles of being synthesized and degraded .
During periods of fasting, cells release nutrients for recycling and remove damaged or unnecessary organelles (cellular structures). This is known as autophagy. In the liver and other tissues, this timely progression is controlled by your circadian clocks .
Part of circadian modulation of autophagy includes establishing particular phases of day or night when the neurons are more susceptible to aggregation and mitochondrial dysfunction, and potentially this would be exacerbated by circadian and/or sleep disturbance which would reduce the daily peak capacity for autophagy (autophagy works via circadian expression of the transcription factor C/EBPβ) .
Zeitgebers or Circadian Cues
A zeitgeber or time giver is a biological cue for the time of day. Our body needs these clues to know when to synchronize different activities.
Other zeitgebers include temperature, tides, social contact, and food availability, among others .
It’s important to realize that there is the central clock in your hypothalamus which has light as the predominant zeitgeber and there are peripheral clocks in cells outside your brain such as your liver.
Feeding/starving cycles are dominant zeitgebers for many peripheral clocks .
Given the multitude of signals able to generate circadian rhythms in tissue culture cells, it is likely that a variety of different pathways are also used to synchronize peripheral clocks .
1) Block Out Light at Night
However, even red light at night increases alertness even though it doesn’t inhibit melatonin release like blue light, showing that melatonin suppression is not required for light-induced nighttime alertness .
The problem if you keep to these tips, people will think you’re a freak. You have to make a calculation if you’re health is worth it, and you can mitigate weirdness in various ways.
If your mate isn’t on board, it will be tough. I’m dating someone who is on board with this because I know it’s difficult if this isn’t the case.
You must block out blue light after the sun goes down mostly.
I recommend the Orange Glasses to be worn when the sun starts going down. You can wear them starting in the afternoon if you wish when you’re indoors, but I only recommend that to the people who have more serious issues.
Blue light destroys the DHA in your eyes and disrupts the signal to your hypothalamus (SCN).
I recommend you wear red glasses for at least 2 hours before bed.
You must turn off all artificial lighting and use these orange bulbs at night. If you get any kind of light at night that isn’t filtered, it will throw off your circadian rhythm. This includes the light bombs that come from outside.
I also use the popular f.lux program to block out blue light. I use the f.lux program all day.
I use Twilight and Bluelight Filter for Android. Jailbroken iPhones can have f.lux installed. Otherwise, I haven’t found programs in the IOS app store yet.
Another good idea is to have Blackout Curtains, especially if you live in a city. Orange Glasses are important if you have a night shift job. There should be no light whatsoever in your room.
Use a sleep mask if need be.
Use Red Sheets that block blue and green to cover iPad or other screens. I’ve actually put these on my windows to block out stray lights from outside because in NYC light bombs are the norm.
If you need to go outside, you should wear red glasses and a hat/cap to block artificial lighting from above.
A mere 5 lux of light (a tiny amount) can disrupt your circadian rhythm . Compare that to the bright light devices that are 10,000 lux and bright sunlight, which I believe is 50,000 lux.
This low level (5 lux) is present in your room even if you shut your lights off but have a night light, or if you are getting light from outside at night, which is the case if you live in a city. These low levels of light alter core circadian clock rhythms in the hypothalamus. These changes were associated with time alterations in eating and increased weight gain in mice .
People who had delayed phase sleep syndrome (and likely people who are just night owls) experienced lower melatonin levels in response to light at night . This means if you’ve got insomnia, you definitely need to follow this tip.
If you have light colored eyes (light-eyed Caucasians), you will be more susceptible to melatonin suppression by blue light than if you had darker eyes (dark-eyed Asian) .
2) Do Not Eat For Four Hours Before Bed
Not eating a meal at least 3 hours before bed is critical and 4 hours is ideal.
If you feel hungry before bed or at night, you must increase your calories in the day.
In the beginning, if you’re getting hypoglycemic, you need to have some honey before bed. But if you are following the lectin avoidance diet and keeping to a circadian rhythm, that will disappear after a few weeks at most.
3) Getting Outside First Thing in the Morning
Getting outside first thing in the morning to get light and reset your rhythm is important. It’s also helpful to use a dawn simulator and also a bright light device if you aren’t getting bright light in the morning.
If you aren’t getting outside within 30 min of waking up, then you need a bright light device.
The Bright light device is large and it’s good to put at your workstation if you use your computer first thing in the morning.
I also have a portable Bright Light Device to put on a cap. I use this EMF Cap with it. You want to use these for a maximum of 15 minutes just to reset your circadian rhythm.
Again, if you can get outside within a half hour every day, then you don’t need this. You’re much better off getting outside.
4) Getting As Much Sunlight In The Day
Studies have found that melatonin is more easily suppressed in the winter than the summer by light in Japanese . This is presumably because not having enough bright light in the day predisposes you to increased circadian disruption with light at night.
Night owls exposed only to natural sunlight had a more significant change in the time they went to sleep (they went to bed earlier) .
5) Going to Bed and Waking Up At The Same Time
I’m pretty bad when it comes to this, but going to bed at the same time can be useful for programming your circadian rhythm. I’m working on it.
6) Reduce Psychological Stress
Psychological stress will throw off your circadian rhythm.
Stress hormones (CRH, cortisol) have the effect of delaying the circadian rhythm. This is why night owls are more of an anxious phenotype.
7) Don’t Exercise a Few Hours Before Bed
Not exercising within 4 hours of going to bed is a good idea.
Exercising at ~5 pm can sometimes be ideal for sleep, but don’t exercise at 9 pm and go to sleep at 11 pm.
8) Eat Most of Your Calories In the Morning and Afternoon
You want the vast majority of your calories and especially protein in the morning and afternoon.
Protein jump-starts your metabolic rate and this is better close to the time you wake up.
You shouldn’t have your biggest meal for supper (last meal), as is common in the US.
People might have their largest meal for supper because they might not want to be fatigued in the day or more likely because they don’t have time to eat in the morning. I get it, but it’s time to change.
You should construct your meal size based on if you get hungry before bed or in the middle of the night.
If you’re hungry before bed or you wake up in the middle of the night because of hunger, it means you didn’t eat enough in your last meal or in the day in general.
Up your calories of lectin free foods and seafood, especially for breakfast. You will not get tired if you only eat 12 ounces of wild salmon and no carbs or oils (unless you have an allergy).
I usually fast for 12-14 hours a day because I will stop eating at about 7 PM and eat breakfast at maybe 8 AM. This fluctuates.
9) Go to Bed Early
You want to ideally go to sleep at 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM. You don’t want to go to bed at 12 PM like I do.
I am working on this, with some limited success. I seem to be able to go to bed earlier, but the key for me is to do it EVERY DAY, not just most days.
I find I’m most successful when I aim to get to bed at 9 and then I end up getting in bed at 11. When I aim for 11, I get to bed at 1.
10) Get Rid of Chronic Inflammation, Oxidative stress, Mitochondrial Dysfunction or Hypoxia
Each of these disturbs your circadian rhythm and they are also increased by a disturbed circadian rhythm, creating a bad vortex.
For me, food lectins were most significant in giving me inflammation and disrupting my circadian rhythm, but this was far from the only trigger.
Your mitochondria are supposed to be more active in the day and you’re supposed to utilize oxygen, which results in superoxide. Bursts of superoxide will help you create new mitochondria.
When your mitochondria are working well, you will build up healthy levels of ATP and NAD+ levels, which are important for energy utilization and metabolism.
Healthy levels of these will allow you to be alert and energized in the day and tired by nightfall.
The mitochondria create ATP. ATP converts to cyclic AMP, which is a critical messenger molecule for so many cellular processes.
cAMP is needed for the regulation of glycogen, sugar, and lipid metabolism.
The phosphates from ATP activate proteins that act directly on the cell’s ion channels.
Through PKA/CREB, it leads to the production of gene products.
Cyclic AMP turns on PKA, which converts ATP into AMP, which ends up converting to adenosine.
If your mitochondria aren’t working, you don’t produce optimal levels of ATP, cyclic AMP, AMP, and adenosine.
You need adequate oxygen for your mitochondria to work well.
Chronic inflammation and/or oxidative stress will cause your mitochondria to slow and you won’t utilize oxygen well. Low oxygen will lengthen your electron transport chain and cause increased superoxide per ATP produced (Kruse).
11) Be Cooler At Night
Some people like to have a thick blanket to snuggle on at night. This will make you warm and disturb your circadian rhythm. You’re supposed to be cooler at night and your body temperature should drop.
12) Increase Cyclic AMP (cAMP) Right After Awakening
Exercise also increases cAMP, so it’s not a bad idea to wake up and do some push-ups or take a quick sprint.
13) Make Sure
You Have Enough of These
- Selenium is important for your circadian rhythm .
- Vitamin A deficiency causes a circadian dysrhythmia, which in turn results in cognitive dysfunction. 
- Methyl groups – Methyl-Guard Plus
14) Take Most Supplements in the Morning
Almost all herbal or other supplements should be taken in the morning or afternoon.
The exceptions are raw honey, magnesium, glycine, herbs meant to put you asleep (valerian, passion flower) and perhaps a few others. Unless you have a clear reason to use it at night, use it in the morning or afternoon.
I used to support some supplements to make you drowsy before bed, but I am now careful. I use them only when people suffer from insomnia.
Music and socializing are zeitgebers, which can indicate it’s daytime, so keep these to the earlier parts of the day (or restrict at night).
Oxygen can also reset the circadian rhythm and help jet lag .
If you use an oxygen concentrator or hyperbaric machine, it should be done in the AM or afternoon.
Circadian Rhythm of Hormones
In the morning, light on the retinas signals the SCN to shut off melatonin .
GHRH spikes at about midnight while growth hormone gets released a bit later.
Metabolism is lowest at about 4 AM and this corresponds to our lowest body temperature.
Cortisol spikes at 6 AM. CRH and ACTH precede the cortisol spike by an hour or so.
Aldosterone and cortisol both cause a blood pressure spike.
VIP is highest at 6 AM and lowest at 6 PM.
This burst of ghrelin stimulates growth hormone.
Ghrelin continues to be high until the morning. Ghrelin stimulates NPY in the hypothalamus increasing our desire and ability to eat a lot more. Melatonin is known to acutely decrease ghrelin.
Light at night can disturb the ghrelin release .
Leptin makes NPY decline normally, but if one is leptin resistant this does not occur and appetite is out of control at the brain level.
Testosterone secretion peaks at about 9 AM. This is preceded by FSH and LH secreted at about 6 AM.
At 6:30 PM we see our highest blood pressures due to changes in atrial natriuretic factor and antidiuretic hormone (ANF, ADH).
Circadian Rhythm of Disease
In the morning, the immune system may be overactive, inflaming airways in asthma sufferers and swelling arthritic joints .
Heart attacks and strokes peak at around 9 AM, partly because of the higher blood pressure .
Also, a substance called PAI-1, which makes blood clot more readily, peaks around 6:30 AM .
Circadian Rhythm, Metabolism and Oxidative Stress
Metabolism/mitochondrial production of energy, the sun, and detoxification of food-derived toxins create free radicals in the daytime, which then elicit an antioxidant response in a cyclic manner throughout the day (but oxidative states are focused in the daytime and antioxidant response at night) .
In the late afternoon and on we see more antioxidant gene expression .
When your cellular clock is disrupted, it results in a deficiency of NAD+ because NAMPT, the enzyme that makes NAD, is controlled by clock proteins – BMAL1 is especially important for this . Less NAD+ leads to a reduction of SIRT3, which is necessary for metabolism and mitochondrial function .
Circadian Rhythm and Your Immune System
TNF–α, IL-2, and IFN-γ likely work in part by inducing slow wave sleep, which makes us more resistant to infections .
T cell numbers and its reactivity were stable during the daytime, whereas a significant increase was observed in the late evening and early morning hours .
Cytokines, such as TNF, can change your circadian rhythm, so the effects are bidirectional .
Circadian Rhythms and Weight Gain – Low CLOCK
Mice who eat at the wrong time (when it’s dark for humans) gained more weight, despite the absence of any significant differences in calorie intake or activity over the course of the experiment.  Obviously, their metabolism shifted.
A disrupted circadian rhythm is why we see shift workers are at seriously increased the risk of obesity .
Mice deficient in the core circadian CLOCK gene develop obesity. These mice have reduced levels and a flat rhythm of orexin, a neurotransmitter that increases energy metabolism .
Circadian Rhythms and Weight Loss- Low BMAL1
Mice deficient in another circadian gene (Bmal1) had defects in insulin secretion, both at base levels and in response to glucose stimulation. These mice were highly susceptible to diabetes .
Fat cells also need BMAL1 to develop .
When mice were bred without BMAL1, they lost weight .
So a BMAL1 deficiency could cause weight loss as a result of less fat cell production and lower insulin secretion or weight gain.
I see both excessively thin and obese people having circadian rhythm problems. The obese people might have a problem with the CLOCK gene and the thin people might have an issue with BMAL1.
Mice bred without BMAL1 are infertile, small in stature, age quickly, and have progressive pains in joints and are more sleepy and less active (less overall locomotor activity) than normal mice .
BMAL1 (and CLOCK) increases gene production of NAMPT , which is crucial in converting niacin (also called nicotinamide) to NAD , which is what puts the pedal to the metal of metabolism. So less BMAL1 means less NAD+, slower metabolism, and energy production .
Having less BMAL1 will result in less SIRT1 protein and activity .
Having too little BMAL1 will ruin your sleep, which many of my clients have sleep problems.
Mice that don’t have BMAL1 in histamine cells have more fragmented sleep, prolonged wakefulness at night, shallower sleep depth (Less SWS or N3), hindered recovery sleep after sleep deprivation, and impaired memory .
Overall, a BMAL1 deficiency fits with the thin phenotype client who has sleep problems and can’t gain weight.
BMAL1 increases hair growth. Mice deficient in BMAL1 had a delay in hair regrowth after shaving .
BMAL1 controls certain kinds of inflammatory monocyte .
BMAL1 increases the circadian genes Per1, Per2, Rev-erbα, and Dbp)
Star is the rate-limiting step for hormone production. It transports cholesterol to the inner mitochondrial membrane to be transformed into pregnenolone. Recently, it has been found to play a role in creating bile as well .
Hsd3b2 plays a crucial role in the synthesis of all classes of hormonal steroids. This gene is predominantly expressed in the adrenals, ovaries and the gonads . The HSD3B2 gene provides instructions for making the 3β-HSD enzyme, which is necessary for the production of progesterone, testosterone and ultimately cortisol, aldosterone, and estrogens.
CYP19A1 is a gene that makes aromatase, the enzyme that transforms testosterone to estradiol.
In the male, the LHCGR has been identified on the Leydig cells that are critical for testosterone production and support sperm production. LHCGR is also important for female fertility as well .
BMAL1 plays an important role in adult hippocampal neurogenesis by regulating neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs). This ties various neurological/psychological disorders linked to adult neurogenesis and circadian rhythm .
BMAL1 (and CLOCK) represses glucocorticoid receptor NR3C1/GR-induced transcriptional activity by reducing the association of NR3C1/GR to glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) .
People with Gestational Diabetes have lower BMAL1 .