My father’s a night owl. He would stay up till one, two, three in the morning, writing and translating. He would work in his study, the light visible through the crack under the door, as he clacked away on his typewriter—the sound we fell asleep to. For years, I figured I inherited this late-night tendency, in the same way I inherited his prominent nose. My best, most productive time for writing and creating seemed to kick in after midnight. For years, it was so out of necessity. As a young mom, my four small kids took all of my time and attention when they were awake. Once they were put to bed, I’d tidy up the house, do some laundry, and then settle in front of the computer, around 11 p.m., for a few hours to work. I’d get a second wind as I worked to maximize my time. And I prided myself on all that I was accomplishing while “mere mortals” were sound asleep.
Those days are gone and it’s not just because I’m older and get sleepy earlier. I’ve begun taking some intentional steps to turn things around. Here’s why. I’ve come to discover that just as eating more real, natural foods is good for our bodies, so is following natural sleep/wake patterns. To do this, we must get attuned to our circadian rhythm.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “Circadian Rhythm,” I think of a band from the 1980s. At least that’s what I used to think. Now I know that the circadian rhythm is our body’s natural biological cycle of wakefulness and resting. On its own, our body has a rhythm that is restorative and healing. Like breathing, moving, and eating, it’s a primal setting that has served us well since the dawn of time.
Unfortunately, we’ve gotten out of sync with our circadian rhythm. It’s like when you’re at a club with your friends and you can no longer hear each other speak because of the pounding, overwhelming music and beat. We’re disconnected from our natural wake/sleep cycle, only it’s not music that’s interrupting our communication with our bodies, it’s light.
Most of us work and live under light that sends us signals that it is the middle of the day when it is not. The blue light from our screens and devices stimulates us so that we can work, binge-watch Netflix series, or scroll through social media ad nauseum, when we might otherwise be resting or starting to wind down.
If we can minimize the disrupting light, our bodies can rediscover their natural biological rhythm and regain better health. The result? Deeper, restorative sleep, improved attention and cognitive function during the day, and a healthier gut microbiome! Are you up for that? I am. This is why I’m changing my night owl ways. Here are some steps I recommend that I’m also taking to reconnect with my natural circadian rhythm.
Sun before screens– Getting sunlight (particularly morning sun, within 45 minutes of sunrise) is like a dopamine hit for our bodies. The sun lets us know that it’s time to get going. Make an effort to get that morning sun for a nice burst of energy at the start of the day. Switch out “screen-rise” for “sunrise.”
Take a break – Don’t stay cooped up all day! Whether you’re a student, a mom, or a corporate executive, make sure to get some time outdoors. Use your coffee break or lunchtime to do so—yes, even if it’s cold outside. (For more on this, see my blog post “Why catching cold this winter is a good idea for your health!”)
Wear blue blockers – There are glasses that mitigate the negative effects of the blue light from our lightbulbs, devices, and screens. It’s a simple fix to an omnipresent problem. Buy a pair and wear them every night for a few weeks. (Click here for my partners page to see my favorite brand.) Your friends will probably mistake you for Bono & you just might start to feel the difference blocking that blue light can make.
Screen-free night- Why not let your computer, phone, and tv sleep at night, to see how it affects your own shut-eye? Try a screen-free night once a week. See how it feels to read, take a walk, or just talk with your family for a change. This will allow your body to relax in a new way. It’s not just your eyes that get the message that it’s midday from your screens—your skin absorbs light information too. So shut down the devices and take it easy!
Do any of these appeal to you? Pick your favorite one and go for it. And please comment below about how it feels to start to get into sync with your natural circadian rhythm. Personally, this former night owl has never felt better!
Hilda Labrada Gore is a certified health coach and fitness professional. She is the host and producer of the Wise Traditions podcast, on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation. She is a podcasting consultant and the author of “Podcasting Made Simple.” She is also the DC Metro Regional Director for Body & Soul Fitness. She and her husband live in DC with their children and cat and dog. Hilda has energy to spare thanks to her ancestral health practices and her love for liverwurst.