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🌟 Learn how to help people stabilize and strengthen their circadian rhythms.
A person deciding to resynchronize their circadian rhythm faces a difficult journey. They will need guidance and support to overcome the challenges they will face. These obstacles may include:
fear of nighttime crime, fire, and the supernatural1
difficulty changing personal habits and addictions
uncertainty, confusion, and mistakes
judgement from their friends, family, and co-workers
Each person's experience will be unique, but in this post, I will share what I have learned so far. I hope it empowers you to help those in your care, whether familial or professional, to make this shift.
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Becoming a Circadian Coach
With the proper information and social support, I know you can help even the most stubborn. They can immediately enjoy greater waking alertness and more restful sleep2. In the long-term, many health conditions may slow, stop, or even reverse. Search the web for the conditions that concern you plus "circadian disruption." You will find that circadian rhythms are integral to wellness.
To guide someone to success, help them follow this simple but effective plan. This plan came out of months of research and years of personal experience. Here's how it goes:
First, optimize the thermostat. It is important that nights are cooler than days3. The optimal sleep temperature is in the mid to upper 60’s Farenheit. This may mean using a fan or air conditioner in the summer.
Second, optimize the night lights. It is important that nighttime lighting is dim4. Nightlights should be no brighter than 3.0 lux (or 1.0 lux for sensitive individuals). Night lights also need to have blue and green tones excluded. You can now find sleep lights at many retailers, or order them online. To use them effectively, switch from your daytime bulbs to your nighttime bulbs as soon as the sun goes down. To be truly circadian, use candelight instead of electric light.
Third, optimize the day lights. It is important to get bright light during the day5. Seek professional help if anyone in the household takes prescription drugs or has a diagnosed mental illness. Go outside to greet the sun at the three daytime quarters (morning, afternoon, evening), even if only for a few minutes. Employ “daylighting” practices in your home and workplaces. Ideas for that can be found here.
Finally, optimize personal schedules and habits (this gets its own section later on, but to summarize, it mainly entails feasting and being physically active during the day and fasting and being sedentary at night).
Along with these changes, make the soundscape quieter overall, and especially at night6.
This plan is unique in that it requires next to no willpower from the individual. It works because the ambient environment is the main driver of rhythmicity. In truth, you can’t set your circadian rhythm just by waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day. This is because rhythms are mainly set by the environment, not your habits.
Within an ambient environment that mimics nature, activity can take place 24-7. Morning larks, night owls, crepuscular critters... no one will have environmental circadian disturbance. This is another unique feature about this plan: it accommodates all schedules. For some ideas about optimizing night shift, read:
Speaking of schedules, there are 2 main ways people's circadian rhythms go astray7.
There is too much variation in their day-to-day. This can be from work schedules, jet-lag, partying, or environment.
There is too little variation in their day-to-day. This can be from indoor living, and especially the for the bedridden.
Perceiving the differences between these patterns can help you tailor your plan. If it is a work problem, you can:
find a doctor versed in chronotherapies to write you a prescription that may include an alternative work schedule
pitch your employer on circadian lighting and schedules
take protective measures within your current schedule/environment such as wearing a hood and blue-blocking glasses after dark
If it is a lifestyle problem, your bad habits may fall away on their own as the environment itself becomes more circadian.
Most people think of humans as diurnal creatures (meaning they are active during the day only). And most people are diurnal. But, humanity as a whole functions around the clock. Based on opportunities and threats, humans can be awake at any time of day or night. Biologists call this "cathemerality" or "cathemeral" behavior.
Want to get involved with the Brighter Days, Darker Nights community? Join the subscriber chat and find the chronotypes chat to share your ideal schedule!
Optimizing schedule within a circadian environment
To improve personal schedules, consider the daily timing of each of the activities. To avoid disruption, a schedule should stay consistent for >6 weeks at a time8. Aside from staying regular, schedules can actually be quite different and still be ok. A few recommendations:
Allow for short daytime naps if desired
Fast for the final 2.5 hours before bedtime
Aim for at least one 6 hour sleep window that overlaps the natural darkness
Mild exercise is recommended in the morning, but high-intensity exercise should be saved for afternoon9
Within these guidelines, individuals should find their own natural rhythms. For example, some people like—or even need—to nap; others don't enjoy napping at all. Some are most alert in the morning; others don't quite “wake up” until dusk. As long as the environment has good cues (light, temperature, sound), there are infinite schedule possibilities.
Tips for Circadian Coaches
As you coach someone into this new lifestyle, they may act either reluctant or eager at first. Once they commit, they may have burst of enthusiasm. This is a great time to have long, in-depth conversations, share research, and be available. As they go on, they will need less and less support. Some may backlash and rebel against the changes altogether. Others may incorporate only one or two changes and then stall. As a coach, it is important to remain unattached to their outcomes. They are their own beings, and you can only help them as far as they are willing.
It can also be helpful to keep in mind that the longer a person has been out of sync, the longer it may take to get back on track. But that doesn't mean it is impossible! Patience and perseverance are key. I shared more tips for helping bring groups of people on board with circadian lifestyle choices here:
I hope this guide is helpful! Please let me know what you think, and feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions!