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  • Supporting Your Circadian Rhythm...and beating SAD | with Dr Lucy Caratti

    July 11, 2023 4 min read

    Most people have heard of the circadian rhythm and associate it with the sleep-wake cycle; however, many don’t know the extent to which our bodies are affected by it.

    The circadian rhythm is the way our bodies regulate functions through an ‘internal body clock’. This body clock affects the sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, digestion, glucose metabolism and many other vital bodily functions. Historically, before electricity revolutionised our world, humans were primarily dictated by the sun and fire being their main sources of light. Human bodies, using receptors in the retina of the eye as well as in our skin, recognised the middle of the day when the sun was directly overhead and the more angular light of sunset and sunrise as the 'bookends' to the day. They ate and went about their activities when it was light and rested and slept when it was dark.

    The invention of electricity meant that humans were no longer limited to performing activities during natural daylight hours and were able to stay up late working or watching TV and keeping overhead lights on until it was time to sleep. Unfortunately, the use of this modern revolution confused messages to the body about what time it was and ultimately what cycle it was in. This then began to affect our hormones; our melatonin (sleep hormone), serotonin (happy hormone), dopamine (feel-good hormone), leptin (the hormone that makes us feel full) and ghrelin (hunger hormone). We are now finding the cyclic disruption is either inhibiting or delaying melatonin release, causing insomnia or sleep onset disorder, and blood glucose regulation and digestion are upset from late-night eating. This is the main reason we suffer so badly from jetlag and why shift work has been deemed detrimental to our health.

    We, as a society, have lost the connection to our surroundings and it is causing humans to experience sleep, metabolism and mood issues (amongst many others). We find these issues are even more prevalent in the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs recurrently in the winter months with symptoms including feeling depressed most of the day, losing interest in usual activities, and experiencing appetite and sleep changes. Specifically, people suffering from SAD may experience oversleeping, overeating, weight gain and social withdrawal. While we can’t (and don’t want to!!) give up the modern comforts we so rely on, we can assist the body to maintain the circadian rhythm optimising health in many areas. Here are my top tips to assist:

    1. Optimise your light exposure

    By controlling your exposure to light, you can help support your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep and digestion. Ways to achieve this include dimming overhead lights from 7.30 pm and just using floor and table lamps. Turn off all screens, including TV and phones, from 8.30 pm. Try reaching for a book in the evenings or have a warm bath with some magnesium salts whilst listening to your favourite podcast. Aim to sleep in a completely dark room but remember that your skin also has light receptors, so an eye mask won’t solve a light room!! Make a habit of going outside every morning, even if it’s dark and gloomy, for at least 10 minutes. Make it a beautiful morning ritual to start your day with some breath work or meditation with a cup of herbal tea!

    2. Eat with the sunlight

    This can be a difficult one with our busy lifestyles and the early sunset in winter, but it is a great way to support digestion and reduce stress on the body. This may look like taking breakfast to work and eating it there, or eating your main meal at lunch and having something lighter in the evening if you can’t have dinner earlier. It has even been shown that the negative effects of shift work are reduced if one maintains normal eating times during daylight hours instead of eating during the night.

    3. Eat to support your melatonin

    While the use of melatonin supplements can be useful to retrain your circadian rhythm, some foods have higher levels of melatonin or tryptophan (a precursor to both serotonin and melatonin). These include beef, turkey, salmon, tofu/edamame, milk, eggs, nuts (pistachios, almonds and walnuts), pumpkin seeds and sour cherries. Including these in your diet can assist your body’s production of both serotonin and melatonin. A staple in our household, particularly when my kids’ sleep is out of whack, is a “Cherry Ripe” smoothie as dessert, see the recipe below.

    4. Light therapy

    If lifestyle hacks are not improving your sleep cycle, studies show the use of light therapy can be effective, specifically using red light to induce sleep and using blue/green light to block the onset of sleep. You may have experienced the benefit of having an Infrared sauna at night. This is an increasingly popular service in gyms and other health-focused businesses. If you find these sessions particularly beneficial, it may be worth purchasing one for your home. There are many portable options available on the market to suit most budgets.

    Hopefully, these tips will help you combat the winter blues and get your body in sync with its surroundings. Here’s to a happy, healthy winter.

    Cherry Ripe Smoothie

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 scoop collagen protein powder
  • 1/2 cup goats milk yoghurt
  • handful of frozen sour cherries
  • handful of walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cacao nibs (omit if sensitive to small amounts of caffeine
  • 1 teaspoon honey - optional
  •  

    Blend together and enjoy!




    Dr Lucy Caratti can work with your regular GP to support you with specialised and specific women's health care.
    Dr Lucy Caratti is a highly qualified Integrative Doctor with 15 years of clinical experience and an expert in women's health, particularly issues like menopause, gut health, metabolic diseases, and hormonal imbalances.  

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