A friend of mine has an expression: Everything happens with perfect timing. Though he means this in the cosmic sense, there’s also a perfect time for many practices that affect our health and well-being.
Now, you’ve probably heard of circadian rhythms, a vast spectrum of physiological and behavioral rhythms that recur in your body every 24 hours. In essence, your body can “tell time” with respect to the day/night cycle, and this internal clock regulates the coordination of nearly every bodily process, as well as fundamental things such as sleep, stamina, mood, cognitive function, alertness, fertility and appetite.
So, if you overlook or mistreat your circadian system, you can really miss the boat in your efforts to bolster your well-being and overall functioning. On the other hand, when you’re in good “circadian health”, you feel and function at a much higher level!
To support the circadian side of life, it’s helpful to know the best time to do certain things during your day. Here’s a short list of basic steps you can take to this end:
Timing of sleep and waking. The best time to wake up here in North Carolina is around 6:30 am or at sunrise, after about 7 hours of restful sleep. This means getting to bed by 11 pm, and sleeping in a cool, dark (pitch black) room. Within the hour before bed, avoid bright lights and all visual stimulation such as TV or computer screens.
Timing of full-spectrum light exposure. Make sure you get a good dose of bright morning light upon waking. This has a very beneficial effect on your biological clock and actually enhances your daytime mood and nighttime sleep quality. Sunlight is by far the best and brightest source of light. Even when it’s cloudy or overcast, the open sky can be up to 50 times brighter than typical indoor lighting.
Some other helpful tips: Try to spend at least 15-20 minutes outside in the early morning. Sit outside while you drink your morning tea, go for a walk, do some gardening, or do some gentle stretching. Don’t wear sunglasses (unless it’s a safety issue) in the morning because you won’t get the circadian benefits. Sunglasses are best worn later in the day. If you can’t get outside, try sitting in front of an eastward facing window and look at the sky (but not directly at the sun).
Also, if you need to get up before sunrise, you can benefit from bright interior full-spectrum lights that give off at least 400-800 lumen. This will simulate the sun’s effects and help to wake your body up. It’s a common practice in northern countries where the morning sun is minimal.
Timing of eating. Try to eat breakfast about one hour after waking. However, it’s important not to eat too much or too late the night before, because your body’s anticipation of food in the morning helps synchronize the circadian cycle of the stress hormone, cortisol. Some amount of experimenting is helpful, since eating too early or too little for dinner can cause you to wake up earlier than you want. If you exercise soon after getting up in the morning, you can eat shortly after your workout. Speaking of which…
Timing of exercise. For many people, the optimal time for exercise is about five minutes after waking up; this is in order to burn up some body fat before there is any food (calories) to burn. When you exercise on an empty stomach, your caloric needs come entirely from fat storage. On the other hand, if you don’t have a lot of belly fat or fat reserves, your exercise habits can be more flexible, and you might benefit more from exercising in the mid morning or mid afternoon.
Timing of supplements. Some supplements are best taken at certain times of the day, and this is a complicated topic that really requires a health coaching session because of all the potential variations. For example, B-complex vitamins are best taken in the morning, but if you’re exercising in the afternoon, taking a B-complex before exercise can be helpful. Just don’t take it at night. Many herbals are also best taken at certain times of the day.
Remember: Your internal clock has been a life-shaping force since time immemorial. Don’t take it for granted! By being mindful of these and other “circadian health” habits, you can profoundly improve your quality of life and overall vitality. To learn more about your circadian health needs, come see me for a personal nutrition/health coaching session.
If you have questions or would like to schedule a health coaching session, please reach out.
© 2017, Mark Nathaniel Mead