by Brent Hearn •
When your circadian rhythm is chronically “out of whack,” it can lead to a number of serious health problems that can negatively impact your quality of life.
We can practically hear our dear readers’ eyes rolling. (Some of them. Not yours, of course). “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard about this,” mutter these hypothetical naysayers. “But surely it’s not that big of a deal.”
Rest assured, friends. It is that big of a deal.
If you’re still skeptical, here are just a few of the things regulated by your internal clock—and subject to disruption by any number of external factors. (We’re talking to you, doom-scrollers and revenge procrastinators.)
Metabolism and Appetite
Yeah, we know that “retro gaming is en vogue” and you’re “really good at it.” But your dogged refusal to stop fireballing Goombas in your 14th replay of Super Mario Brothers long enough to get some shuteye before you’re due at work in a few hours might be contributing to your desire to inhale a whole bag of artificially flavored cheesy-whatsits.
Impaired Cognitive Function
Take it from a bleary-eyed writer whose livelihood has often depended on articulating thoughts coherently while sleep-deprived: The struggle is real.
The Really Nasty Stuff
As if the rest weren’t enough, “circadian misalignment” (a fancy way of saying that your internal clock and your lifestyle aren’t on the same page) can increase the risk for a host of other serious health issues, including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infertility, and obesity.
Understanding Your Chronotype
Since we’re human beings and we live on planet Earth, our sleep-wake cycles are closely tied to the 24-hour clock. These cycles are responsible for a lot. Much of what contributes to your tendency to be a morning person or a night person comes down to how your body responds to light exposure. There’s a word for that tendency—”chronotype”—and evidence suggests that it’s closely tied to genetics.
There have been attempts to classify chronotypes with corresponding animals. Not everyone uses the same categories, however, and the inconsistency can be confusing. Wait…am I a wolf or an otter? What do you mean an “otter” chronotype isn’t a thing?! I wanna be an otter!
It may be more beneficial (and less confusing) to avoid the animal descriptors altogether (sorry, otter lovers) and just keep it simple. When are you most alert? When do you get the most done? When do you feel yourself winding down?
Where Science Meets Reality
The harsh truth is that life doesn’t always revolve around our natural predispositions. (If this is the first time you’re learning this, oh, how I envy you.) Jobs, family obligations, and the like can keep you from living your chronotype’s best life. So the question arises: Can you change your chronotype?
Though much of what goes into one’s chronotype is hard-wired, it is possible to shift from morning person to more of an evening person and vice versa. “Gradual” and “consistent” are good keywords to keep in mind throughout the process. Don’t go for a drastic, overnight chronotype makeover; change your bedtime and light exposure incrementally. (Consistency in your sleep schedule helps tremendously, as does consistency in your eating and exercise schedules.
If you need help determining your chronotype, consider taking an online quiz or investing in a sleep tracker. If you find you’re consistently struggling with circadian misalignment, consider consulting a sleep specialist. Don’t underestimate the value of living a well-rested, energized life!
NIH News in Health: Tick Clock: Your Body Clocks
Women’s Health: The Reality of Going Off Schedule