For most adults, the least amount of energy occurs in the middle of the
night (somewhere between 2:00am and 4:00am, when you’re usually
fast asleep) and just after lunchtime (around 1:00pm to 3:00pm, when you
tend to crave that post-lunch nap). Those times can be different if you’re
naturally a night owl or a morning person. You also won’t feel the
dips and rises of your circadian rhythm as strongly if you’re all
caught up on sleep – which for most of us is not the case! When
you are sleep-deprived you will notice bigger swings of sleepiness and
The hypothalamus (a portion of your brain) controls your circadian rhythm.
That said, outside factors like lightness and darkness can also impact
it. When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus
that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal
to your body to release melatonin, which makes your body tired. That’s
why your circadian rhythm tends to coincide with the cycle of daytime
and nighttime (and why it’s so hard for shift workers to sleep during
the day and stay awake at night).
Your circadian rhythm works best when you have regular sleep habits, like
going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same times
from day to day (including weekends). When things get in the way, like
jet lag, daylight savings time, or a compelling sporting event on TV that
keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning, you can disrupt your circadian
rhythm, which makes you feel out of sorts and can make it harder to pay
Interestingly, your circadian rhythm will likely change as you get older.
And you may not have the same sleep/wake cycle as your partner, child
or parents. But the more you pay attention to your body and notice feelings
of alertness and drowsiness, and the more time you spend developing good
sleep hygiene habits, the better your slumber will be and the better you’ll feel.
Some sleep hygiene habits to consider:
Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep
in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing
exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful
Food can be disruptive right before sleep. Stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can
cause sleep problems, if someone is struggling with a sleep problem, it’s
not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And, remember,
chocolate has caffeine.
Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside
frequently. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before
trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read.
- Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing.
*tips and information courtesy of the National Sleep Foundation