Every day we experience a 24 hour light/dark cycle which results in physical, mental, and behavioral changes that are dictated by natural light. Otherwise known as circadian rhythm, this light and dark cycle impacts our behavior, gene expression, metabolism, and our gut microbiome.
The natural condition for humans is to spend the light phase of the 24-hour day in an active/feeding state, and the dark phase in a resting/fasting state. Light exposure initiates a daily reset of the cycle and is communicated throughout almost every cell in the body.
However, with the increased exposure to artificial light in our homes, offices, and from our technological devices, as well as an increased time spent indoors, our circadian rhythm is more misaligned than ever.
Researchers have found that timing of food intake is a critical external cue that helps synchronize our circadian rhythm. Misalignment not only between light and dark exposure, but also our feeding times, can crumble our entire circadian rhythm. Unfortunately chronodisruption (a chronically disrupted circadian rhythm) is rampant in today’s society. This can contribute to sleep issues and other health conditions such as metabolic syndrome and digestive disorders.
Since our gut is the first organ to encounter shifts in our food intake, it is not surprising that signals from the gut act as additional zeitgebers to other organs. Interestingly many gastrointestinal processes such as digestion and absorption of nutrients, gut motility, and hormone sections are directed by the circadian rhythm. Therefore a disruption in the circadian rhythm can lead to increased symptoms of IBS and abdominal pain, not to mention downstream negative impacts to our wellness due to the lack of absorption of the nutrients we need to live and thrive.
Since the circadian rhythm governs every cell in our body, if you are struggling with chronodisruption, consider rewiring your circadian rhythm first before investing your time and money into the newest diet trends, supplements, or fitness programs. Check out the recommendations below to help support your health and wellness goals for free.
How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
- Get outside and expose yourself to natural light every day, no matter if its cloudy or sunny. The more you are outside, the better.
- Exercise during the active light phase, instead of the rest dark phase.
- Mimic your indoor lights to reflect the natural light cycle. If it’s dark outside, dim your indoor lights and avoid exposure of blue light from screens, phones, etc. Blue light blocking glasses can be used at night if you are unable to avoid exposure.
- Your body likes routine. Go to bed at the same time every night if possible and keep your room cool and dark. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Eat a balanced meal or snack within an hour of waking. Too busy to eat? Then try Good Culture whole milk cottage cheese and a piece of fruit.
- Continue to eat regular meals on schedule during the light hours of the day. For example breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Instead enjoy Organic India tulsi tea for a caffeine free boost.
- Avoid eating the majority of your food at night.
- Aim for a 10-12hour feeding window during the active light hours of the day.
Segers A, Depoortere I. Circadian clocks in the digestive system. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. April 2021.
Kacsmarek Jl, Thompson Sv, Holscher HD. Complex interactions of circadian rhythms, eating behaviors, and the gastrointestinal microbiota and their potential impact on health. Nutr Rev. 2017 Sep; 75(9): 673-682.
By Selva Wohlgemuth, Co-op News Contributor
Selva Wohlgemuth is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Happy Belly Nutrition in Bellingham, Washington. She specializes in gut health and has an in-depth knowledge of women's health. She is an avid outdoorswoman and mother.