The Power of Circadian Rhythms: Say Goodbye to Insomnia

Reading: 4 minutes 17 April 2024
insomnia
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the quest for optimal health, one often overlooked yet crucial factor is the balance of our circadian rhythms—the internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. In this article, I want to shed light on the profound impact of circadian rhythms on our brain, our health and productivity, drawing upon research from leading institutions to underscore the significance of prioritising quality sleep.

Circadian rhythm is a person’s innate sense of time, the ‘biological or master clock’ that determines our every action throughout the day.  It does this by detecting the light levels through your eyes and then telling the brain to make more or less melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. In fact, every one of our 20,000 genes are programmed with this master clock and heavily relies on it for some of the body’s most important processes, such as regulation of the internal body temperature, production of hormones and is intertwined with the metabolic processes.

Firstly, let’s understand the key difference between Insomnia and poor sleep. While they are both related concepts, they differ in their severity and persistence.

Poor sleep refers to a general disruption or dissatisfaction with one’s sleep patterns and is sometimes considered to be social jet lag as it is considered self-inflicted due to poor sleep hygiene or life-style choices. It is also usually temporary in its duration.

Insomnia, on the other hand, is a specific sleep disorder characterised by persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, despite adequate opportunity for sleep, leading to significant distress or impairment in daytime functioning. Insomnia is also considered to be highly stress related.

Despite its paramount importance, many people fail to grasp the critical role of sleep in maintaining overall health. Research from the University of Oxford highlights the pervasive misconceptions surrounding sleep, with a lack of awareness contributing to poor sleep hygiene, insomnia and subsequent health consequences [1]. From increased risk of chronic diseases to impaired cognitive function, the ramifications of sleep deprivation are far-reaching and profound. In a study published by the Department of Anesthesiology, researchers found that an unbalanced circadian rhythm is the cause of up to 20% of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, arrhythmia and angina, to name a few. In fact one hours sleep can make all the difference to the increase in cardio vascular incidents when the clock go forward in spring for daylight waking hours and we lose 1 hours sleep.  This is also compounded by an increase in RTA’s related to sleepy drivers on the road.

The economic toll of poor sleep and insomnia on the British economy is staggering. Studies from the Sleep Council estimate that sleep-related issues cost the UK economy an estimated £34 billion annually in lost productivity and absenteeism [2]. Moreover, research from the London School of Economics underscores the link between insufficient sleep and decreased workplace performance, highlighting the urgent need for interventions to address this pervasive issue [3].

So, what can individuals do to improve their circadian rhythm and, by extension, their health and productivity? Simple lifestyle modifications can make a world of difference to those with insomnia. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is the starting point and regularity is king when it comes to insomnia.  Try and wake up and go to sleep at the same every day – even at the weekend.  Get some exercise during the day – at least 30 minutes outdoors for your eyes to absorb the daylight and rebalance the circadian rhythm, this is effectively when it is reprogramming the master clock. Next try to create a conducive sleep environment by reducing the room temperature to 18 degrees Celsius, a warm bedroom will slow down the likely hood of you getting off to sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep within 10 minutes of your head hitting the pillow, then practising relaxation techniques before bedtime.  Keep your mobile phone and tablets turned off at least 1 hour before you go to bed.  Try reading a book – nothing too exciting or challenging to the brain though. Finally, try and leave a gap of at least 2 hours after you’ve eaten and going to bed to ensure that your food is digested.  These are all proven strategies for enhancing sleep quality and say good night to insomnia.

Moreover, employers have a crucial role to play in fostering a culture of sleep wellness within the workplace. By offering flexible working arrangements, promoting work-life balance, and providing education on the importance of sleep hygiene, employers can empower their employees to prioritise rest and rejuvenation. Encouragement from the workplace is crucial – after all – they are the biggest benefactors of our concentrated brain while at work and it will improve focus and productivity tenfold.

With the enhancement of technology, many workplaces have fallen into a 24/7 availability FOSO (read my article on FOSO) culture which is not beneficial for our sleep cycle or balance of the circadian rhythm. Let your employees know that they aren’t expected to reply to messages in the evening or work during the weekend. If you allow your workforce to get back in swing with their natural body clock, they will be more productive and have a better attitude towards work. It all starts with a little understanding of the basic functions our bodies need to survive, which includes our circadian rhythm.

In conclusion, the key to optimised health lies in the correct balance of our circadian rhythms. By recognising the profound impact of sleep on our well-being and productivity, we can take proactive steps towards reclaiming our health and vitality. Let’s prioritise quality sleep as a cornerstone of a healthier, happier and more productive future for all.

Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Motivational Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace.  In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing.  Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. In 2022 Kumud Gandhi co-founded ‘Your Work Wellness’ where she is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in productivity and performance through wellness strategies, nutrition and personal health coaching.

[1] University of Oxford. “Misconceptions About Sleep.” Accessed February 25, 2024. https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2022-10-17-misconceptions-about-sleep-impact-mental-health.

[2] The Sleep Council. “The Economic Cost

Kumud Gandhi Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.

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