We ask a Naturopath: What really is a circadian rhythm?

We speak with Huckleberry’s head naturopath Kim Wessels to understand more about melatonin, cortisol and the importance of a quality circadian rhythm.

What is a circadian rhythm?
The biological functions that occur naturally over a recurring 24-hour cycle, often referred to as our ‘body clock’.

What is it most affected by?
The big ones today seem to be stress, anxiety, diet, jet lag and shift work, in addition to our attachment to technology.

What are the consequences of a poor circadian rhythm?
The most common is sleep deprivation. This can lead to a whole raft of health issues like energy imbalances, intensified stress levels, emotional and mental health issues, weight gain, digestive problems, blood pressure and other cardiovascular related complaints.

We’ve read that they have a lot to do with cortisol and melatonin, can you expand on this?
Cortisol is a hormone produced in times of stress to keep us active and alert, of which increased amounts can disrupt our sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced to regulate sleep-wake patterns, which also naturally inhibits cortisol production. So, the more you produce in the evening the more it inhibits cortisol and encourages sleep.

What are polyphasic sleep schedules?
Most of us are monophasic: we sleep once through a 24 hour cycle. A polyphasic sleep cycle generally involves multiple sleep periods during the day with one longer than the rest. The circadian rhythm can adapt if the practice is continued.

Are they beneficial?
The jury’s out on this. Actively employing a polyphasic pattern to increase productivity or performance has been proven to reap results in the short term. However, to practice this long term increases the risk of serious sleep deprivation. I’ve yet to see research that promotes the concept.

Is taking melatonin for sleep beneficial?
It can be if your production of melatonin is deficient. However, there are many reasons why sleep patterns can be disrupted so it’s important to consider the whole picture and not take melatonin just because you can.

How can we reset our circadian rhythms?
Regulate sleep-wake cycles by going to bed and rising at the same time each day, avoid naps and develop an evening routine that is relaxing and calming. Don’t eat too close to bedtime — try to allow 2 hours between — and minimise bright light exposure in the evenings to encourage natural production of melatonin.


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