Have you ever wondered why you always sleep at a certain time? Maybe even a little bit in the early afternoon after lunch. Because in the evening the pain resulting from inflammation (maybe the wisdom tooth or a little fever) tend to increase compared to the morning. Why do some people tend to be very hungry when they wake up and others have a bad stomach?
It is not just a matter of habit, on the contrary, habit has a reason to exist. People generally find their own rhythms of the day based on circadian rhythms.
In this article we will understand what circadian rhythm is and how to use this information to regain our level of well-being. We anticipate that it is a very vast and complex subject, let’s say the antechamber of a very fascinating world that sees macroscopic and microscopic adjustments of our organism aimed at maintaining the homeostasis of our body. We will therefore try to give a general overview and practical advice to put in place immediately!
What are circadian rhythms?
The concept of circadian rhythm is actually very simple. We refer to a daily rhythm, that is, the trend, during the day of a certain value (hormone, modulation of the autonomic nervous system etc..) that is repeated tendentially every day. Circadian rhythms exist to allow us to function at our best, depending on the ecosystem around us. The homo sapiens had to wake up active, ready to shoot and research takes, then go to relax in the early afternoon, return to be averagely active in the late afternoon and sleep the night to recover at best. This trend has allowed us to survive a hostile environment, evolve.
However, if it was so functional in the past, for what are the demands of modern society it is very little functional. We are required to wake up early to go to work, but also to do the small hours always for work. To be active all day and not to rest in the afternoon. Many people miss lunch to avoid insulin peak and postprandial fatigue. However, the rhythms are encoded for everyone. An employer or school asks all employees/pupils to report at the same time and follow the same times when the circadian rhythms of each are different.
All this has a very important impact on us, it creates food dysfunctions in the sense that we no longer eat as we should but tend to feed in the wrong way because our organism, in crisis, can no longer manage the best resources it has.
Already from this you can understand how important everything that we will see and how much, a minimal intervention to comply with our rhythms, allows us to improve our daily sense of well-being.
SNA circadian rhythm and sleep.
A first impact on the circadian rhythm has, of course, the light/dark rhythm that leads us to sleep when there is no light and stay awake and active during the day. This is a very simple view of the matter. Actually, the situation is much more complex.
The sense of tiredness or waking depends on the regulation of our autonomic nervous system (SNA) that travels on two fronts:
- Sympathetic (fight or fly, fight or flee!)
- Parasympathetic (recovery and rest, rest and regenerate).
These two systems alternate in the day. The Homo Sapiens is an animal species with a biphasic sleep so it is "thought" to sleep in the early afternoon and to recover the energies, to meet again engagements in the late afternoon/evening and to return to relax for the night.
You understand that this function depends precisely on how much our SNA manages to adjust and move from one state to another (it is always a middle way, they are not watertight compartments but it is worth simplifying here). Not everyone can afford to sleep in the early afternoon which is why many people skip lunch and find themselves being more energetic! (we go back).
Even more, however, the hours of sleep and waking depend on person to person. There are people who tend to fall asleep late and wake up late and people who fall asleep early and wake up early. Why? In fact, from an evolutionary point of view it makes sense that the moment when the whole "group" of individuals was sleeping simultaneously was shorter, a few hours in the middle of the night.
We were so less exposed to danger, this allowed us to save ourselves from many uncomfortable situations that saw hungry night predators!
So, first organizational advice: try to carve out 30-40' to sleep after lunch (you will feel regenerated!) and try to set your own working rhythms according to how comfortable you are. If you tend to fall asleep late do not force yourself to wake up early! Rather take the morning calmly and finish working later! With smart working this thing is already easier but many companies have already stopped asking workers for determined hours rather than performance!
Circadian rhythm and hormones
Hormones play a part in this circadian game. In particular, what interests us most here is cortisol. Typically we have a peak in the morning, a slight increase in the afternoon and a collapse in the evening and night. This always to go to regulate the SNA, cortisol is a hormone hyperglycemic and pro-inflammatory, must be active and high at times when we have to be more active and awake, will give us energy to spend and will charge us for the jobs we will have to do!
Also here a good advice, try to include physical activity in the morning (as long as you rest well!) basically works best because it is a time when we are "designed" to be active and we will thus have a better glycemic modulation!!
Circadian rhythm and feeding
Nutrition is the last point, here a world opens up, because it deeply affects everything we have seen. In particular, the intake of carbohydrates leads us to regulate cortisol (being a hyperglycemic hormone tends to drop when the blood sugar is high enough) and SNA (stimulating serotononine and insulin stimulate the passage into parasympathetic). The most important advice in this case is to:
- Keep blood sugar stable throughout the day
This is why try to take more carbohydrates close to our daily training (before but especially during and after) and less far from the training. If we have difficulty sleeping and falling asleep we reserve a share of carbohydrates at low glycemic index (such as oats for example) before going to bed (60-90'' before). In this case, however, it should always be investigated because you can not sleep!
In this article we saw some practical tips to use, the theme is very broad and, as mentioned, very fascinating. There are so many precautions you can use to greatly improve our well-being and lifestyle. We will learn more in other articles!