Why I’m cracking my circadian code

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It’s been a while since I have done any blogging, but I have a very self-indulgent reason: I have been reading.

What a joy it has been to immerse myself in some very good books. These have included Nicci French’s Blue Monday (cleverly written but disturbing) and Susan Beale’s debut novel, The Good Guy. The former is co-written by a husband and wife partnership, which makes it even more compelling (just how do they do it?).

New Year, New You?

Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been aware of the prevalence of the time-honoured ‘New Year, New You’ theme throughout the month. While I normally carry on as usual throughout January (largely ignoring these messages), my interest was sparked when I heard Liz Earle interview Max Lowery on her popular wellness podcast.

Lowery advocates the idea of eating only 2 meals per day during an 8 hour period,  resulting in a daily intermittent fast. You’ll no doubt heard of approaches like the 5:2 diet, but this method means that 16 hours in any 24 hour period are without food.

The timing of this episode was fortuitous, as it chimed with the ideas of Satchin Panda whose book I am currently reading: The Circadian Code: Lose weight, supercharge your energy and sleep well every night. 

Circadian rhythms

Satchin Panda is an academic whose work he has distilled into a really accessible book. Focusing not only on diet, Panda explores ways to optimise our health through the alignment of our activities with our daily ‘biological clock’ or circadian rhythm.

In the early part of the book, Panda explores how the timings within our schedule are particularly important for our overall well-being. For example, it had never before occurred to me that getting up at a different time at the weekend would effectively create what Panda calls ‘social jet lag.’

Panda suggests that, by altering our schedule by going to bed and getting up later at the weekend, we are all de facto ‘shift workers.’ Instead, he advocates going to bed and getting up at the same time 7 days per week. This avoids the foggy brain and fuzzy head of a weekend morning, which we might previously have experienced.

A little experiment

This has prompted me to do a bit of experimentation. From early January, I’ve been going to bed and getting up at exactly the same time every day. Yes, even on a Sunday. For sure, I take things a little more slowly at the weekend and might even pop back into bed to drink my morning tea. But I am consistently getting up at 06:15 (which means lights out around 22:15 or 22:30).

A friend of mine has a son who has recently returned from the West coast of America. Many days after any genuine jet lag should have subsided, he continues to suggest this as the reason for him not getting out of bed in the morning. On closer examination, the ‘problem’ is easily diagnosed: social jet lag. He is partying late into the night.

Light

Sleep, of course, is intrinsically linked with light. Or rather, the absence of it. This means that we’re more likely to have disturbed sleep if we persist in using electronic devices during the evening when we should be enjoying the soft, warm glow of side lamps.

Panda explains that the blue light from electronic devices triggers a protein within the eye, which tricks the brain to wake up. Since the brain does not expect the stimulation of light at night, the use of bright light disrupts our circadian rhythm.

So, if we want to benefit from a deep, full restorative sleep, we’d do well to revert to an old-fashioned paperback at bed time. That’s handy for me, since my Reading Group (aka wine club) books are always physical books. So, I’m definitely going to carry on with this good habit. I’m not talking about the wine.. and cake.

2 meals per day

The ideas expressed during the Liz Earle podcast (eating just two meals per day) align closely with Satchin Panda’s time restricted eating (TRE).

Panda explains how the science around restricting daily eating to a 12-hour period brings impressive results. Even better, reducing the window to as few as 8 hours can be even more beneficial. The reason is because most of the body’s fat burning happens 6-8 hours after finishing your last meal. It also increases exponentially after a full 12 hours of fasting.

So, if you want to lose some weight, reducing the ‘window’ during which you consume all of your daily calories can reap real rewards (even if you don’t change what you eat).

Again, in the interest of science, I’ve been observing my own behaviours around food. I normally eat a light breakfast before I go to work; a snack mid-morning; a light lunch (normally leftovers); then another small meal when I get home. I might also have my daily fix of natural yoghurt and a couple of squares of dark chocolate after dinner.

I’m basically taking on food from morning through to night. That can’t be doing me any good.

So, I’m going to experiment a little and see if skipping that evening meal will result in better sleep and a greater appreciation of the food I am eating. If you think about what that 8 hour window means in practice, it means breakfast (for me) at around 07:00 then my final bite of the day no later than 15:00. That’s quite a change for me.

A time for everything

It follows that, since all the cells of the body have their own ‘circadian rhythm’, there’s a time for doing certain things during each day. If you eat from the moment you wake through to that last snack of the evening, your body will be in constant ‘digestion mode’.

By creating a gap between the last bite of the day and the time we prepare to sleep, the body can have disposed of its food-related responsibilities before it goes into rest, repair and rejuvenation mode. Equally, our bodies aren’t designed to exist in a well-lit environment throughout our entire period of wakefulness; when then sun goes down, so should our overhead lights.

If we are more intentional about our activities, we may enjoy myriad unexpected benefits.

So, I’ll read on and explore what other lifestyle choices I can make that might positively align with my natural circadian rhythm. I’m currently on Week 5 of Couch to 5K, so knowing the best time to run (for example) might spur me on and keep me running well – and with some enjoyment – throughout the programme.

But what about you? Are you aware of your own ‘circadian code’? Have you ever experimented with TRE (time restricted eating) and do you dim those lights during the evening? Do let me know by replying below.


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10 thoughts on “Why I’m cracking my circadian code

  1. This makes so much sense! My routine is all over the place though. Three days a week I work 8am to 8pm so trying to do this would be difficult but not impossible. Food for thought, so to speak. Thank you.

    Like

  2. This sounds so interesting. Even so, I couldn’t drag my sorry self out of bed this morning. I will give it a good try by starting during the work week when I need to get up. I’m not sure how healthful coffee is on an empty stomach. That part surprised me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I set a regular sleep schedule many years ago when I discovered that not getting enough sleep was one of my triggers for migraines. I go to sleep at 10 p.m. and wake at 6 a.m., and vary it by no more than one hour if I have to for some reason. I also don’t eat within 3 hours of bedtime or else my acid reflux rears it’s ugly head. As for lights, I dim them after supper and avoid electronic devices right up until bedtime. I find I fall asleep fairly easily and sleep well for the most part. My approaching menopause disrupts it sometimes but my routine makes it easier to fall back asleep, and even on days when I miss some hours I find I can rebound better because I maintain the routine.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Catherine. After reading your posting, I went directly to my public library to pick up The Circadian Code. It makes so much sense. I’ve been good about getting to bed by 10 pm or I don’t sleep well. But the 8-12 hour eating period was enticing. So for 2 1/2 weeks I’ve been having breakfast at 800, lunch at noon, & dinner at 500; nothing but water the remainder of the evening. No more antacids at bedtime & I am not hungry either. I’m also trying to consume my largest meal at noon & then don’t really need much for the evening meal. Now let’s see if I lose any weight!
    I found a similar book, Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar’s Change Your Schedule, Change your life, that also speaks about when & how to exercise & how the seasons affect us.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for responding, Catherine. I enjoy your posts. Your title of Midlands Minimalist made me think of one for me: Mid-Atlantic Minimalist, as I live in Pennsylvania, USA, the mid-Atlantic region. Keep up the good work!

        Liked by 1 person

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