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Sleep & Circadian Rhythms

The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour pattern which operates in response to light/dark cycles and the Earth’s rotation. This rhythm regulates sleep patterns, but recent research has revealed it is more than just a sleep/wake cycle – this daily rhythm affects all tissues, organs and systems of the body.

Circadian rhythm disruption
Modern life is increasingly busy and stressful, with a significant increase in artificial light, all of which can disrupt this internal rhythm. Causes of circadian rhythm disturbances can include: 

  • Stress: Psychosocial factors like work and relationship problems can disturb diurnal hormonal patterns, disturbing sleep and dysregulating circadian rhythms.
  • Light/dark exposure: Low exposure to natural light in the day delays sleep onset; as does high exposure to light at night  (especially blue light from screens).
  • Stimulants and medications: Certain stimulants (e.g. caffeine, tobacco) and medications (e.g. corticosteroids) can alter circadian function.
  • Timing of eating: Eating late at night can delay sleep onset.
  • Shift-work: Causes sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment (working at night).
  • Jet lag: Can cause disruption to sleep/wake cycles due to changing time zones.
  • Social jet lag: A term used to describe different sleep patterns on non-workdays, which can disrupt circadian rhythms and contribute to disease risk.

Circadian disruptions linked to disease
Issues with the sleep-wake cycle can cause physiological, mood-related, behavioural and neurocognitive dysfunction due to increased oxidative stress within the central nervous system and imbalance of neurotransmitters and hormones. Ultimately this can result in an increased risk of the following:

● Cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and hypertension
● Reduced insulin sensitivity, disrupted glucose metabolism and type II diabetes
● Neurological disorders – e.g. epilepsy, migraine, Parkinson’s disease
● Mental health issues and mood disorders
● Increased hunger and increased sensitivity to rewarding properties of food
● Enhanced pain sensitivity
● Suppressed immune system and increased inflammation
● Reduced stress regulation – increased catecholamine, ACTH and cortisol levels
● Increased rate of cellular ageing
● Cancer

Improving circadian rhythm disruption naturally

  • Increase exposure to light in the first half of the day and decrease exposure to artificial light at night.
  • Exercise (morning exercise has been proven to improve sleep, whereas evening exercise can delay sleep onset).
  • Manage timing of meals – i.e. no eating late at night (after 7pm), with recommended 12-16 hour fasting / 8-12 hour eating window (improves sleep quality, blood pressure, food intake and body mass).
  • Manage contributing factors (e.g. stress, intake of stimulants, etc.)
  • Use phytomelatonin (plant based melatonin) to regulate circadian patterns.

Historically melatonin supplements contained melatonin derived from animal or synthetic sources. Phytomelatonin may be a superior form for a number of reasons, including:

  • Plant-based, not animal derived – so vegan and vegetarian friendly
  • Does not contain chemical by-products from chemical synthesis of melatonin
  • Acts in a sustained release manner, more closely emulating the natural production of melatonin overnight
  • Low-dose – matches the body’s natural production

Do you need to reset your internal clock?  Contact us at True Medicine for support on how to alleviate issues with sleep, fatigue, and mood disturbances.  Call the clinic on 07 5530 1863 to arrange an appointment.



Article and research courtesy of BioPractica