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Circadian Rhythm.

After I became sick, and I exhausted the traditional medicine route, I began looking into ways to get back to nature and the ways of my ancestors, who did not have the plethora of strange neurological conditions that are increasing in our teenage and 20's populations (conditions such as POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a form of dysautonomia, or dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system). I remember thinking, "This is not right. I (and others like me) should be at our healthiest at this stage in life. This is not natural." I never accepted that I would have to deal with this condition the rest of my life. Daily, I began working to find possible ways to reverse this condition, and the hundreds of debilitating symptoms that come along with it.

The first topic I began researching was diet (more here). I began a paleo diet, and eliminated dairy, grains, and legumes, and increased produce. Changing my way of eating helped immensely with symptoms and well-being.

I then began learning about ways to beat adrenal fatigue / dysfunction (more on that soon). One of the primary tests for adrenal fatigue is the 4 point saliva cortisol test (cortisol is a stress hormone. One of its functions is to keep you alert). This test shows your level of cortisol at 4 points during the day - waking, noon, evening, and bedtime.

The optimal levels should have a nice curve - at the very highest (significantly so) at the first point (waking), then steadily declining throughout the day, to the lowest point at bedtime. This correlates to the natural circadian rhythm that allows for an optimal day: You have peak energy in the morning, waking up naturally without the aid of an alarm clock or caffeine. Then energy declines steadily until bedtime, when cortisol should be the lowest, and you can easily fall asleep at the proper time without a sleep aid, and with good levels of melatonin being naturally produced.

However, not many people today have this perfect rhythm. I often see cortisol patterns showing a low morning reading (should be highest), then a zig zag up and down throughout the day, with the nighttime reading showing high cortisol (when it should be at its lowest). People will often note that they have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, are groggy during the day and require caffeine or other stimulants, and then have a "second wind" at night when it should be time for bed, so they may drink alcohol to try to "wind down." I see this backwards circadian rhythm more often than not.

Reasons for this dysfunction include high levels of stress (from either lifestyle or disease), insufficient rest, lack of exercise, and insufficient intake of sunlight, excessive caffeine and alcohol intake, poor diet, and nighttime indoor and electronic lighting.

Ok, so how can we fix this dysfunction?

Food. I always like to start with diet. Eliminate processed foods (anything with an ingredient list), and increase whole foods and produce. This does not have to be an overnight change. Make small changes, which accumulate and build on each other, and work on consistency until you have created new habits.

Work to identify, and eliminate, any foods that do make you feel optimal (common culprits being gluten, grains, dairy, soy, and eggs). Foods which do not nourish you will act as a stressor in your body, and disrupt your hormonal cycles.

Wean yourself off of caffeine and alcohol. If you have to use these stimulants daily to make it through your day, realize they are a crutch, and are not helping you to truly rebalance.

Light Exposure. Note your light exposure during the day. You should have the most light earlier in the day, and very dim light leading up to bedtime. Light stimulates cortisol, keeping you awake and alert, and postpones the production of melatonin, your natural sleep hormone. The best option is to get natural sunlight in the morning and during the day (which your body also uses to make the important hormone Vitamin D). If possible, adjust your morning routine so that you can sit outside in the morning.

Another option is to look into a Light Box to brighten your area during the day. My home based office is relatively dark during the day, compared to outside natural light. So, I found this "light therapy" lamp, which I keep turned on and pointing toward me most of the day (on amazon, here). This helps my body understand that it is daytime.

In today's age of electronics, we end up exposing ourselves to the same amount (if not more) light at night, after sunset, compared to the amount of light we get during the day. We have overhead lights glaring, blue light generating smart phones, computers, tablets, and tv's in our faces. It all works together to confuse our body and hormone synthesis. Cortisol stays high, when it should be low in preparation for bedtime, and melatonin, which is produced to help you fall asleep, is suspended, as your body thinks it is daytime.

Dim and minimize lights throughout the house at least 2 hours prior to bedtime. Turn Night Shift mode on your iPhone (there is a setting to have it automatically turn on from sunset to sunrise), or get a blue light blocking app for your phone, tablet, and computer. Another option, which has helped me immensely, is a pair of blue light blocking sunglasses (Amazon has tons of options for different styles and sexes). The blue light blocking glasses block blue light from entering your eyes (obviously) from computers, tv's, tablets, and phones, and also decrease overhead light coming through your eyes as well). This helps your body understand it is night, and it should start producing melatonin in preparation for bedtime. Wear the glasses 2+ hours before bedtime, and/or if you are working on a computer, tablet, or phone after sunset.

Exercise and grounding. Many of us do not move enough during the day. We may sit at a desk the majority of the time, then come home and expect to be able to fall asleep naturally. Our minds may be tired, but our bodies have not had sufficient movement. Try to work in time during the day to move your body. Even a light walk will help move lymph, boost

neurotransmitters, and rebalance hormones (side note: your lymph system, unlike your circulatory system, works only via manual pump. This means you must move in order to circulate and clear your lymph system).

Indoors, we are surrounded by EMF's (electromagnetic fields) via electronics and appliances, smart meters on our houses, wireless routers, and overhead power lines. Get outside and walk in an area away from electronic whenever possible. Barefoot is even better, as there are many emerging studies linking "grounding" with the earth to improved health. The fresh air is an added bonus.

Rest. Try to fall asleep by, or before, 10PM. Therefore, lights out by 9 or 9:30 is usually best. Waking around sunrise helps your body start to realign with nature's clock and how your body was intended to function. It may feel a little odd at first if you are used to staying up later and/or sleeping in. Work toward sticking to a schedule like this, that puts you in bed not too long after sunset and up at sunrise. You should then start to see your body naturally make shifts to realign your sleep cycle.

Stress. This is a biggie, and warrants its own post, but I will try to hit the bullet-points here. Stressors keep your cortisol flowing, which keeps you awake, perhaps when you should not be. Identify what your main stressors are, and work to eliminate or decrease them in your life wherever possible.

If keeping up with maintenance for a large house is one of your stressors, minimize your possessions and make plans to downsize. Decrease hours at work or look at making a career change if that is an issue. Set boundaries with energy sucking friends or family members. Implement an organization system vs. trying to rely on memory. Ask for help and learn how to say no. Your health is more important than pleasing everyone, all of the time.

Learn how to better cope with stress, such as learning proper breathing methods (learning to breathe in a way that activates your parasympathetic / rest-and-relax nervous system), and do gentle exercises and stretches. Live in the present moment and decrease worry over the past and future. Find a good emotional counselor (such as one that practises EMDR or EFT).

These changes may seem like a lot, but do not let yourself become overwhelmed. Learn to implement just one or two things at a time. Keep a journal to document what works and what doesn't, and track your progress. If you stay consistent in making small life changes, you will be surprised at your progress in just a few months.

Additional Resources:

Breathing - there are many different sites and tutorials that explain proper breathing. I have recently been introduced to the Wim Hof method, which really oxygenates the body, and calms you after a "session."


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