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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

The Science of Sleep Syncing: Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights


Sleep is an essential aspect of overall health and well-being, yet many of us struggle to get the quality and quantity of sleep we need. One effective way to improve our sleep is through sleep syncing.


Sleep Syncing: The practice of aligning our sleep schedule with our own body's natural circadian rhythm and is a scientifically proven way to improve our sleep quality and duration.


By following simple strategies such as setting a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding stimulants and meals before bedtime, and getting regular exposure to natural light, we can improve the quality and duration of our sleep, and wake up feeling more rested and rejuvenated. Sleep syncing is touted as a wellness trend for 2023, and the science backing it makes it clear why. In this blog post, we'll explore the benefits of sleep syncing, the science behind it, and practical tips for implementing sleep syncing strategies into your daily routine.


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

WHAT IS THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM? AND WHAT IS IT'S ROLE IN REGULATING SLEEP AND WAKEFULNESS?


Our bodies are regulated by a natural internal clock called the circadian rhythm, which influences the timing of physiological processes such as sleep and wakefulness. The circadian rhythm is controlled by a group of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which receives signals from the eyes that help to synchronize the internal clock with the external environment. The SCN then sends signals to other parts of the body to regulate various physiological processes, including hormone production, metabolism, and the sleep-wake cycle. This is the same part of the brain that regulates certain hormones (cortisol, insulin, and melatonin and energy (glucose).


LIGHT EXPOSURE AND THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM


Viewing light in the eyes helps regulate the circadian rhythm because the eyes contain specialized cells called photoreceptors that are sensitive to light and send signals to the hypothalamus, which is the brain's master clock.

When light enters the eye, it triggers a series of biological processes that ultimately suppress the production of the hormone melatonin, which is typically released in response to darkness and helps to promote sleep. This suppression of melatonin helps to signal to the body that it is daytime and time to be awake and active.

Conversely, when the eyes are exposed to darkness, such as at night, the lack of light signals to the SCN to increase the production of melatonin, which helps to promote sleep. Therefore, exposure to light in the eyes at specific times of day can help to regulate the circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep-wake patterns.


For example, exposure to bright light in the morning can help to reset the circadian clock and promote wakefulness during the day, while avoiding bright light in the evening can help to promote the production of melatonin and prepare the body for sleep.

Disruptions to the circadian rhythm can have a variety of negative effects on health and well-being, including sleep disturbances, fatigue, mood disorders, and an increased risk of chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, weight gain, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule and taking steps to support a healthy circadian rhythm, such as exposure to natural light during the day and avoiding bright screens before bedtime, can be beneficial for overall health and well-being.


 

3 STEPS TO SYNC YOUR SLEEP WITH YOUR BIOLOGICAL CLOCK


 



1. KEEP YOUR SLEEP TIMING CONSISTENT

According to Aviva Romm, MD, a functional physician and herbalist with a practice in New York City, maintaining consistent sleep and wake times is one of the most effective ways to regulate your body's internal clock.

It is important to have a set schedule for both, even on weekends, with only a 30-minute deviation allowed. Functional-medicine practitioner José Colón, MD, MPH, author of The Sleep Diet: A Novel Approach to Insomnia, emphasizes that having a consistent wake-up time is crucial for circadian health, preferably on the early side. By waking up early, melatonin levels rise naturally and make it easier to fall asleep by 11PM.


To avoid feeling drowsy during the day, Colón advises against napping for more than 40 minutes, as this can disrupt nighttime sleep. Short naps, however, can boost energy levels without interfering with sleep.



 



2. AIM TO GET MORNING LIGHT, AVOID BLUE LIGHT IN THE EVENING


One of the most essential, but often overlooked factors, for maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is exposure to light and dark. This is one the strongest synchronizing agents for your body. In fact, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that exposure to natural light during the morning hours helped to advance the timing of the circadian rhythm, resulting in earlier bedtimes and wake-up times. The study also found that exposure to natural light in the morning improved sleep quality and reduced daytime sleepiness in individuals with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder.


Morning light is crucial because it has a powerful effect on the circadian cycle due to the presence of blue-wavelength light, which stimulates the receptors in our retinas. If you can, try to take a morning stroll, or step outside for a few minutes into the sun.

In the evenings, consider shutting down all screens at least 1 hour before bedtime, or use apps that reduce the blue light on your devices. Keep lamps at their lowest brightness, and using a red-spectrum light in the bedroom can help signal the brain that it's the end of the day. Try to keep your bedroom dark, as darkness allows the pineal gland to produce melatonin.



 


3. AVOID LATE NIGHT MEALS


To ensure optimal digestion and avoid potential health complications, it is recommended to finish your evening meal at least two to three hours before bedtime. Your peripheral clock in the GI tract is signaled to shut down metabolic activity in low light and late hours, making it more difficult for the body to break down food at night.


Sleep Scientist Sophie Bostock, PhD advises, "[Eating] signals to the clocks in the liver, heart, muscles, and kidneys that it's time to get to work," she says. To put it differently, when we eat, our body perceives it as a signal to be active rather than to rest. Therefore, consuming food near bedtime sends the message to our body that it should not be preparing to wind down but rather stay awake to digest the meal.

Alcohol should also be avoided right before bed as it can delay the onset of REM sleep and lead to less restful sleep overall. If you still want a drink, limit it to one with dinner, at least three hours before bed. Alternatively, you can try tart cherry juice instead of wine as it contains a small amount of melatonin.

Caffeine should be avoided 6-8 hours before bedtime as it is a stimulant and can interfere with sleep. Additionally, for further optimize your hormone health, research suggests the optimal time to consume caffeine in the morning is anywhere between 1-4 hours after you wake up. The body releases cortisol first thing in the morning, which classes with caffeine. Waiting until the stress hormone's effect wears off will help you benefit more from the caffeine.



 

THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP SYNCING


Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being. During sleep, the body goes through a range of processes that are critical for restoring and repairing different bodily systems.


Good sleep is associated with a reduced risk of various chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. A lack of sleep, on the other hand, is associated with a higher risk of developing these same conditions.

In addition, sleep is crucial for supporting cognitive function and mental health. Getting enough sleep can help improve concentration, memory, and mood, while sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, sleep plays a key role in regulating the immune system, which helps the body fight off infections and diseases. Overall, it's clear that prioritizing good sleep is essential for maintaining optimal physical, mental, and emotional health.



 

By implementing simple habits like waking up and going to bed at consistent times, exposing ourselves to bright light during the day, avoiding blue light exposure at night, and practicing good sleep hygiene, we can improve our sleep and reap these health benefits. So, let's prioritize our sleep and take steps to sync our sleep with our body's natural clock for a healthier and happier life. Have you tried to sync your sleep?


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