By Ken Hunt

Do you ever find yourself in a healthy pattern of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day? I love it when this happens because it means A) I don’t need an alarm clock since my body is waking up naturally and B) that I’m following the same sleep schedule on the weekend, which makes me feel well rested and ready to conquer my weekend errands and activities.

The reason we feel so great when we’re on a regular sleep cycle is because we’re setting our circadian rhythm — the tiny master-clock structure in our brain. Filled with nerve cells that are affected by light, it regulates the pattern of our sleep and wake cycles as well as the energy ups and downs we all experience throughout the day.

What’s interesting to note is that people who live in complete darkness (winter in Iceland, Finland and Alaska) are still able to adjust to a 25-hour clock with regular sleeping and waking patterns. Here’s what the natural daily circadian rhythm looks like.

6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. – Sleep Inertia
During the first 30 minutes you’re awake your thinking and reaction times are substantially impaired.

7:00 a.m. to Noon – Morning Hustle
Between breakfast and lunch your sense of alertness peaks. This is the time to get things done.

Noon to 5:00 p.m. – Nap Time
At some point in the afternoon we experience an energy drag that usually lasts about two hours. The Spanish siesta might have some science behind it.

5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. – Sunset Spike
A rise in energy occurs, making this a very difficult time to nap.

8:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. – Back to Bed
The chemical melatonin (which helps you sleep) floods your body as you snooze.

Fit’s Tip According to circadian rhythm, it is best to do all your heady work in the morning and save all those menial tasks for the afternoon. Try winding down an hour before the time you would like to get to bed by taking a bath with some lavender salts, by drinking an herbal tea like chamomile or valerian root and by reading something that doesn’t over stimulate the brain (this does not include TV or laptop time!).

Keep Reading: Learn some tips and tricks for getting your circadian rhythms back on track.

Rise and Shine With the Sun: With hectic schedules and juggling the responsibilities of life, it can be difficult to not only get to bed at a decent hour but to actually wake up when the alarm clock goes off and the sun rises.

Exercise: Physical activity can certainly promote deeper sleep but just make sure it’s at least five hours before bedtime. It might also be a good idea to take this questionnaire (link below) that will help you be more aware of your own natural circadian rhythm. It will let you know whether you should work out in the mornings or in the evenings.

Set the Mood: Make sure your sleeping sanctuary is cool, dimly lit and as sleep-friendly as possible. If your room isn’t very dark and you don’t have blackout shades, try wearing a sleep mask.

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