How Our Circadian Rhythm Impacts Our Weight

July 24, 2020 6 min read

How Our Circadian Rhythm Impacts Our Weight

We often think of circadian rhythm as the quality of sleep, but circadian rhythm impacts so much more than just sleep.  Circadian rhythm is the internal clock that organizes our biochemical processes with a 24-hour cycle, give or take an hour, and it regulates numerous parts of our behavior and our physiology.  

The ‘master clock’ of the circadian rhythm is a structure in the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), and it is influenced and impacted by light forms, mainly sunlight.  We also have additional peripheral body clocks located in different organs like our liver and pancreas, and these peripheral clocks are influenced mainly by food.  Together, these internal ‘timekeepers’ create our circadian rhythm and that rhythm affects things like our sleep/wake cycles, our hormonal balance, our metabolism, and more! (Source).

What Can Go Wrong With A Disrupted Circadian Rhythm?   

Before we dive into how to improve our internal clock, let’s discuss what tends to go haywire when our circadian rhythm is dysregulated.  This way, you may be able to identify whether or not you need to start making changes!  

  • Hormonal Dysregulation and Fat Gain 

One major place we see a dysregulated circadian rhythm show up is with our hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin.  When we get even ONE night of poor sleep, it can cause up to a 30% shift in our hunger levels.  We start to under-produce our satiety hormone, leptin, meaning we don’t get full as easily and we start over-producing our hunger hormone, ghrelin, making us feel hungrier than usual!  Just ONE night.  No wonder when we are sleep deprived we are so much hungrier and craving all the carbs.  

Other things that can be negatively affecting include certain neurotransmitters and additional hormones which results in increased levels of body-fat, substantially slowing down our metabolic rate, and decreasing overall energy levels.  

Lastly, a disrupted circadian rhythm is the most common cause of low cortisol levels.  Poor sleep is the number one cause of the so-called ‘adrenal fatigue’, or what most research shows as having low cortisol and extreme fatigue.  

  • Decreased Muscle Mass 

One study found that just one week of poor or inadequate sleep resulted in a 15% decrease in testosterone in males. (Source). Not only that, but one of the main parts of our body that suffers from a disrupted circadian rhythm is our mitochondria. Our mitochondria are the power generators of our cells.  When our circadian rhythm is off, it makes the mitochondria more susceptible to damage.  

This happens because of a reduction in melatonin.  We all know that melatonin is the sleep hormone, but what many do not know is that melatonin is actually a powerful antioxidant in the body.  It is one of the only substances that can penetrate inside of the mitochondria and help fight free-radicals that otherwise do damage to our cellular energy production. (Source).  

With our energy generators getting damaged, we are likely walking around feeling fatigued, worn down, and not too excited to hit the gym.  In turn, we usually see a decrease in performance, and a decrease in results. 

  • Blood Sugar Dysregulation 

There are many studies that show that disrupted sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances negatively affect a person’s glucose tolerance and increase their possibility of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  

One study showed that just ONE week of sleep restriction caused a pre-diabetic state to develop in  young, healthy adults, meaning that a lack of quality sleep can cause more blood sugar dysregulation than diet alone. (Source).

  • Disrupted Neurotransmitter Profile 

You may notice that when you are a bit sleep deprived you experience some of these symptoms: 

  • Frequent anxiety or worry
  • Lack of drive or motivation
  • Being easily angered or irritated 
  • Difficulty finishing tasks
  • Fatigue/Daytime sleepiness 
  • Propensity to gain weight 
  • Racing thoughts/Restless Mind 
  • Persistent feelings of physical or mental tension
  • Low creativity or difficulty remembering things.

All of these things are controlled and driven by our neurotransmitters.  Some key ones get impacted way more by lack of sleep and a disrupted circadian rhythm, and those include Serotonin (Mood, Joy, Pleasure), Dopamine (Motivation, Drive, Stress Tolerance), Orexin (Energy and Wakefulness), GABA (Relaxation and Calming), and Acetylcholine (Cognitive Function).  Seems like a pretty rough day without these neurotransmitters working at optimal levels, huh?  

How to Improve Circadian Rhythm

If any of these ‘symptoms’ or things ring true for you in how you have been feeling lately, it’s time to start focusing on improving sleep quality and bringing circadian rhythm in balance. 

So how do we do that?  There are actually tons of ways you can start to improve sleep and your energy or mood each day, but we will give you the big hitters so you can make the biggest impact possible.  

  • Get in Morning Sunlight 

Light is the primary control of our circadian rhythm, if you remember from earlier when we talked about the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).  It is our main internal clock and it is driven by light.  When a person gets the right amount of light into their eyeballs when they first wake, it helps with cortisol production - which should be highest in the morning, and it helps with energy first thing in the morning so that you don’thave to grab that cup of coffee.  We want you to have it because you enjoy it, not because you need it!  

We recommend going for a short 20-30 minute walk in the sun first thing in the morning or sit on your deck and read a book with that warm cup of coffee!  Or at least go for 2-3 short walks in the sun each day, ideally with short sleeves or a tank top to increase sun exposure (fun fact - you cannot overdose on Vitamin D from the sun, only from supplemental form!).  

  • Reduce Inflammation in the Body 

This is easier said than done, we know that and we understand it takes a lot of intentional work to reduce inflammation.  We know inflammation comes from various inputs every day, but the top 3 sources are our diet, internal infections in the gut, and external toxins like chemicals or heavy metals.  

A couple of ways that you can reduce inflammation within the body include improving body composition by increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat, moving or exercising daily, eating a diet consisting of mostly whole, unprocessed foods and you can even take a couple of supplements that help with  reducing inflammation

We don’t recommend NSAIDs, as the negatives almost always outweigh the positives, but utilizing a quality  Fish Oil can be a great start, and we suggest about 1-2g/day of EPA/DHA combined. 

  • Eat Protein at Each Meal 

We will take this one step further as well and recommend to not eat high carbohydrate and high fat foods in the same meal.  Eating protein at each meal doesn’t just help maintain muscle, it is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitter orexin, which we discussed is our wakefulness and energy neurotransmitter.  

This is also the reason that we tend to feel tired or sluggish post heavy-carb or fat meals.  Both high carbohydrates and/or high fats can reduce the production of orexin, leaving us feeling drowsy and like we need a nap! 

  • Supplement 

We obviously never recommend supplementation over a healthy diet and regular exercise, but it can definitely helpsupplement the process in a positive way.  There are some pretty important nutrients, herbs, and antioxidants that assist in our sleep and daily functions, and the great part is that we took a lot of them and put them into our  SLEEP product.  Here is a quick overview of some of the ingredients and why they help!  

    • Magnesium- This is one of the most common deficiencies in humans today, especially active individuals!  Magnesium helps the body relax and also helps with the production of GABA, our calming neurotransmitter. 
    • Melatonin - We hope we’ve seen the importance of melatonin from this article, but it can be a powerful sleep aid.  Although if melatonin does not seem to help, there is likely a deeper reason for their sleep issues rooted in a disrupted circadian rhythm.
    • Valerian Root - This can help a person become drowsy and fall asleep, or help the sleep process get initiated.  This is done by reducing cortisol production. 
    • GABA - As we discussed, GABA is our calming neurotransmitter and has also shown to help reduce anxiety levels.  

There are a number of other ways to help improve your sleep, or overall circadian rhythm, and some include: 

    • Block blue and green light 1-2 hours before bedtime.  Using blueand green light blocking glasses around your home can help. 
    • Fast at least 3 hours before bed. 
    • Sleep in TOTAL darkness. 
    • Lower the temperature in your home 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. 
    • Stand more during daylight hours.
    • Cut out all caffeine after 12-2 pm daily. 
    • Try to develop a consistent meal, exercise, and sleep/wake routine.  
    • Sleep on your side. 

We recommend, if you are struggling with sleep or struggling to feel energized throughout the whole day (not just part of the day), choosing 5-10 of the ways listed above that you can improve your circadian rhythm and commit to doing them for the next 30 days!  

If you are already doing some of them, pick new ones to add on!  

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