It’s something you rarely think about, but every second of every day your body functions on its own little unique, tick-tock time table: at certain moments your hormones will fire, your energy levels will surge or plummet, your hunger will kick in or subside, and your body will either wake up or close up shop for repairs. Of course, I’m talking about your circadian rhythm—or your body clock—which controls everything from your sleep-wake cycle to the times of day when you’re primed to be the most productive.
Now, if your internal clock is out of whack—whether you haven’t been sleeping or you’ve jumped several time zones—it’s not good. (It could lead to everything from poor sleep quality to decreased brain function.) But even if you are getting good rest, simply knowing your body clock will allow you to schedule your day and be more productive. So, whether you’re trying to re-set your body clock or simply maximize it, here are the 30 best hacks that are guaranteed to make you a healthier person. And for more ways to be healthy, here’s Why Instagram Is Your Secret Weapon for Weight Loss.
The best way to re-set your body clock is to go to sleep earlier than usual, but as we all know, that’s way easier said than done. Enter our good friend Melatonin.
Melatonin is the light-sensitive hormone responsible for keeping your sleep-wake cycle in check and for getting your circadian rhythm back on track—whether you’ve been working late nights or have a case of jet lag. Just take some melatonin supplements before bed, says the Cleveland Clinic. Also, some good news: Melatonin doubles as one of the 15 Over-the-Counter Drugs That Will Make You Smarter.
Do Your Best Work Between 9am and 12pm
It might be tempting to spend your morning doing mundane tasks at work and then picking things up in the afternoon, but that’s when your energy will start to decline thanks to your natural circadian rhythm. (Yes, also known as the dreaded afternoon slump.) According to the Harvard Business Review, you really only have a few hours in the morning to work at your peak level of alertness—then by 3 p.m., you’ll hit a low. Oh, and if you’re feeling flighty up top and can’t focus? Daydreamers, Fear Not! Science Says You’re Super Smart
Set a Strict Bedtime
Sure, light is good for when you want to feel energized—but not so much when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. Since proper shut-eye is crucial in resetting your body—not only mentally, but physically, too—make sure you stick to a regular bedtime. Once you’re in a groove, you’ll find that you fall asleep faster and your body will be a better-oiled machine.
Work Out in the Late Afternoon
Getting your workout out of the way in the morning is a plus, but the timing doesn’t line up with your body clock. You’ll still have a great workout, but a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that your strength and flexibility levels are actually at their peak in the late afternoon due to your body temperature rising throughout the day. (Fun fact: That’s also the time of day when Olympic records are most commonly broken!) And for more great health tips, here’s Why Instagram Is the Key To Weight Loss.
Drink Coffee Before Your Naps
If you’re going to nap, make the most of it. To hack your afternoon shut-eye—and your body clock—drink a cup of coffee before you sleep. While too much caffeine can disrupt your circadian rhythm, a study published in the journal Psychophysiology found drinking just a little bit right before a quick 15-minute power nap can help you stay awake and energized longer than having either alone.
Eat When Your Metabolism is Firing
If you’re still skipping breakfast, stop now: Not only does that first meal of the day help prevent overeating later on, but it also fuels you and gives you energy throughout the day, says the Mayo Clinic. Plus, it works in your body clock’s favor: Since your metabolism is better in the morning, you can get away with eating a heftier meal.
Don’t Make Important Decisions in the Afternoon
If you’re going to be making important decisions, do it in the morning: One study found the part of the brain that helps you differentiate what’s a benefit and what’s a risk starts decreasing around 2 p.m., so it might not be the best time to move forward on anything big that will impact your life.
Take Steps to Lower Your Stress Levels
You can only brush your stress to the side so many times before it gets the best of you. It not only messes with your mental health, but also your physical health, too. Too much stress alters your immune system and increases your risk of everything from depression to heart disease, says the Mayo Clinic. Eventually, your body clock is also affected, making you feel exhausted 24/7. Prevent it early by taking time for yourself, whether that’s with exercise or simply relaxing at night with a good book.
The bacteria in your gut has more of an impact on your body clock than you think, causing imbalances than can affect everything from your sleep and hormones to your immune system, says the Kresser Institute. To help keep everything working like normal to ensure you’re your healthiest self, try probiotics to restore your circadian rhythm.
Eat an Earlier Dinner
Sorry, no more eating dinner in front of Netflix at 9 p.m. Instead, eat with your circadian rhythms for the best results. A 2011 study found those who ate late at night increased their risk of obesity, as well as gastrointestinal, cerebrovascular, and cardiovascular disorders due to the changes in metabolism. You? The earlier the better. And need some culinary inspiration? Check out the 50 Best Foods for Your Brain.
Stop Binge-Watching TV at Night
Spending every night binge-watching your favorite show might seem like a great way to unwind, but it’s also disrupting your circadian rhythms. A 2017 found found that spending all that time in front of the screen makes you feel wired, which leads to poorer sleep. Shutting down early—and maybe reading instead—can help you fall asleep at a normal time and help you stay healthy.
Try Out Light Therapy
Light has a big impact on your body clock—probably more than you even realize. Because your circadian rhythms are synced with daytime and nighttime, being in the light, natural or not, makes you feel more energized. But if something is messing with your sleep patterns, light therapy can get your body back on track, not only improving the quality of sleep you have, but also making you more alert when you’re awake.
Don’t Work Right Away in the Morning
As if you needed an excuse, right? When you wake up in the morning, your body needs some time to adjust and is probably still craving a little more time between the sheets. So in the wee hours, take the time to make your coffee and read the paper. Then, once your energy starts kicking in, feel free to get started on your actual work.
Cut Caffeine Long Before Your Bedtime
Go ahead and have your daily cup of Joe, but stop sipping at least six hours before you hit the sack. Having caffeine too late in the day can disrupt your sleep cycle, and in turn mess up your body clock, says a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Don’t Schedule Afternoon Meetings
Making decisions is bad in the afternoon, and so is scheduling meetings. Since your energy levels and alertness have a major dip around 2 or 3 p.m., it’s the worst time to sit down and discuss things with your boss. Instead, go for something first thing in the morning when your energy is at its peak.
Find Your Prime Napping Hour
Yes, it’s totally OK to get your nap on (even Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were known nappers!), with or without the aforementioned coffee hack. A quick 20 to 30-minute snooze can help boost your mood, alertness, and performance, says the National Sleep Foundation—you just have to find the right window. If you feel your body start to drag at 3 p.m., take that time to sleep: You can work with your body clock and rest for a while only to pick yourself back up shortly after.
Take a Cold Bath or Shower Before Bed
While warm baths before bed might seem the most relaxing to help you drift off into sleep-mode once you tuck yourself into bed, life-hacking guru Tim Ferriss swears by ice baths. On his blog, he said he tried them out for 10 minutes an hour before bed using 2 to 3 bags of ice and it ended up totally knocking him out, getting his body clock back on track and making him feel more rested overall.
Go to the Gym When You Feel Sluggish
Not feeling productive? Use that time to go to the gym. Whether it’s over your lunch break or mid-afternoon, you might not be able to hit your personal records—again, that will have to happen in the early evening—but that break to work up a sweat will help you use your time more effectively.
Don’t Drink Alcohol Before Bed
Nope, not even wine. Studies have shown alcohol can cause all sorts of sleep problems. Sure, it might make you sleepy at first—but it will end up affecting your REM stage in the end, messing with your circadian rhythms and making you wake up during the night (then feel super tired the next day).
Go to Bed Earlier
Don’t fight against your tiredness at night—work with it. If you’re staying up late night after night, it ends up messing with your appetite, and that can lead to weight gain, says a 2011 study conducted by Northwestern University. Hit the hay early and you’ll function better overall. (Plus, you won’t have to worry about pesky cravings.)
Schedule Low-Importance Tasks at the Right Times
Don’t plan anything important during the hours of the day you know you’re going to be low on energy. Instead, use those sluggish hours for napping or getting in a workout and use your high-energy hours for the tasks that need a little more attention and focus.
Spend More Time Outdoors
Helping getting your circadian rhythms back on track for better health might just require a trip into the great outdoors. A 2016 study published in Current Biology found participants who went on a weekend camping trip shifted their melatonin while they were out in nature, helping them fall asleep over an hour earlier at night once they returned.
Fast to Help with Jet-Lag
Is there anything worse than jet-lag? Luckily you can beat it by hacking your body clock. According to Harvard Medical School, fasting for 12 to 16 hours will trigger a reset to your circadian rhythms, helping you surpass all that grogginess.
Stop Sleeping In
Sleeping in on the weekends definitely feels great at first, but that won’t be the case after a while: According to one study, snoozing too long can mess with your body’s internal clock, changing your appetite and metabolism, which leads to weight gain.
You know how stress affects your body clock, putting you at risk for all sorts of health issues? One easy way to lower your levels is to meditate—even for 10 minutes a day—which has been shown to help calm your nerves and boost your mental health.
Turn the Temperature Down
Making sure your bedroom is pitch-black definitely does wonders for your sleep cycle, but another must is temperature control. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the optimal temperature for sleep is between 67 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it easier to get some shut-eye and have high-quality REM sleep.
Take a Warm Shower Every Morning
While you can benefit from an ice-cold bath at night, a warm shower does your body good in the morning. Since your body temperature naturally rises as you wake up and start moving around, hopping in the shower will help speed up the process, amping up your energy early.
Keep Technology Out of the Bedroom
Not only is a pitch-black room crucial for sleep and keeping your body clock on track, but so is limiting technology. Start to power down a few hours before bedtime, and keep it all out of the bedroom: The blue light from your screens has been shown to affect melatonin, shifting your body clock and hurting your health.
Take a Mental Break After Eating Lunch
Have you ever felt super groggy after eating lunch? Well, there’s a reason for that. Your alertness naturally slows down after eating, which makes it a great time to take a break to enjoy a quick power nap. Instead of fighting the sleepiness off, work with it and you’ll be back on track before you know it.
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