Health Benefits of a Natural Sleep Cycle

It’s nearly the end of another work or school week and as we inch closer to the official arrival of Spring, weekend mornings hold the allure of waking up naturally without an alarm to a sunshiny dawn.   Researchers have found that there are a number of health and productivity benefits to rediscovering your natural sleep cycle.  

Sleep patterns are influenced by a combination of circadian rhythms and homeostasis which helps to explain why some people are night owls and others are early birds.  The rising and setting of the sun signals the brain to sleep and wake but our genes also factor into our natural sleep cycle, according to a recent CBC Wellness report. 

With less time spent commuting to work or meeting social obligations during the pandemic, many people have been able to explore their true natural sleep cycle.  The disparity between when we would naturally rise and sleep and when work, school or social obligations requires us to wake up is referred to as “social jet lag”.  Initial studies into sleeping patterns during COVID-19 lock-downs have discovered that many people are getting more rest, and returning to a more natural biological sleep cycle. 

The health benefits of more sleep are especially profound for natural night owls who tend to be lacking in more sleep than early risers because their inner clock is in greater conflict with the working world’s schedule.   Discovering your natural sleep cycle can decrease reliance on caffeine throughout the day to stay alert or alcohol at night to fall asleep.   Social jet lag can also influence eating habits and physical activity resulting in a greater risk for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, depression and anxiety. Being out of step with one’s own natural sleep cycle can also decrease productivity and affect cognitive function, making reaction time slower and impacting decision-making abilities.  

How to reset your inner clock:

  • Get outdoors in natural light each day, preferably in the morning hours. Try taking your morning coffee outside or go for a brisk walk before starting other activities.  
  • Use a sunlight lamp if it’s still dark outside when you wake up.
  • Dim indoor lights in the evening and use warm-tone bulbs indoors. 
  • Keep the bedroom dark at night – any nightlight should be warm-toned and reserved for the bathroom for safety.

Read more about promoting healthy and restful sleep by following this link to the Sleep Foundation website.