The rhythm of life is all around us, but sometimes the pace of our lives can drown it out. In our hyper-connected world, there never seems to be a time when we are not listening to, looking at, or waiting for something that plugs into a wall to speak to us. We go from our connected homes with Alexa and Google Home, to our cars with music, podcasts, and/or audiobooks, and into offices that are cluttered with screens demanding our attention – all the while checking our phones every few minutes. Many of us are stuck at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic and need to pay special attention to our health.
The circadian rhythm is our internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. External cues like sunlight and temperature can influence our circadian rhythms. The fact that humans function within the confines of a circadian rhythm has been part of biological studies for a very long time. “The observation of a circadian or diurnal process in humans is mentioned in Chinese medical texts dated to around the 13th century” (Source: Wikipedia).
A 2013 study found that a week of summer camping, without electronics, reset people’s internal clocks to by in rhythm with nature’s. Melatonin, the “sleep hormone”, kicked in around two hours earlier which meant that the campers ended up going to bed much earlier than at home. Another experiment found that even a weekend spent outdoors caused people to shift their biological clock. Nature has a powerful effect on our brains and well-being.
Teenagers these days grow up in a complicated world, where being connected can be a slippery slope leading to negative effects in so many areas. From school and social situations to anxiety and sleep disorders, the amount of data that is becoming available about the impact of the digital world on our health seems to grow daily. Harvard Health Publishing writes that, “At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.” Further evidence suggests that people with late internal clocks face higher rates of depression and daytime fatigue. Not only should we be getting enough sleep (7 to 9 hours per night), but the timing matters. We disrupt our circadian rhythm on a regular basis due to screen overload that we barely even notice any longer.
Disconnecting from our screens, blue lights, vibrating gadgets, and other “necessities” of our daily lives can be quite an adjustment. Even spending just a few minutes outside daily can help to reset our sleep-wake cycles and help improve both our sleep quality and quantity. The opportunity to let go of the digital world and the chance to be outside and in tune with our circadian rhythm is something that we, as a society, should place a heightened level of priority on because our health depends on it. Just remember to practice social distancing outside!