Human beings are equipped with an elegant internal clock that keeps our bodies working like well-oiled machines. But from time to time, those machines may be subject to a little wonkiness. And while circadian rhythm disruptions are pretty common among shift workers, emergency room doctors, and pilots, these shifts can affect any of us at any given time. But there’s no reason to lose sleep over losing sleep. You may not be able to reset your circadian rhythm per se, but you can shift it earlier or later and get things back on track — it can’t be done overnight (no pun intended), but it can be done.
Stephanie Griggs, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, and assistant professor at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, tells Sleepopolis that “Circadian is derived from the Latin phrase ‘circa diem,’ which translates to ‘about a day.’ It is a 24-hour natural internal process to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.”
More specifically, your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that regulates your temperature, eating habits, and digestion over a 24-hour time period. But as Griggs points out, one of the most important functions of your brain’s master clock is responding to light and dark cues to regulate your sleep and wake cycles. Bright light (like sunlight) makes us feel more alert and awake, while low light (think sunset) makes us feel sleepy.
In addition to natural stimuli, the circadian rhythm is guided by influences such as artificial light, meal times, bedtime routines, and stress levels. Though the internal clock is designed to respond to environmental cues, we can exert some control over it if need be.