Your Stress Response and the Circadian Rhythm
ByJoanne Aponte, ND •February 13, 2024
How we handle stress has a lot to do with how our HPA Axis functions. HPA Axis stands for Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis, this is our brain’s communication with our adrenal glands (our stress glands). It is closely related to our nervous system. When this system is taxed and not functioning properly, there is an abnormal release of our stress chemicals (adrenaline and cortisol) and we have a reduced ability to cope with stress which typically presents as us feeling more easily overwhelmed and frazzled.
HPA axis dysfunction can result from several things – from chronic stress (both mental/emotional and physical), from chronic illness, sleep deprivation and from disruptions in our circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s built-in “clock”. It follows a 24-hour cycle and is naturally aligned with the cycle of day and night. During the day it is responsible for maintaining our wakeful hormone cortisol and at nighttime our sleep hormone melatonin. Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is the key for getting a good night’s sleep, supporting a healthy HPA axis and balanced stress response.
Here is how to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, balanced HPA axis and healthy stress response. It’s all about a consistent routine.
- Get morning sunlight and nighttime dark
- Get sunlight every day. Early in the morning within 30 minutes of waking is the best time. 30 minutes is ideal (but at least 10 minutes). Get outside if you can, a morning walk is great. If it’s too dark in the morning or you can’t get outside, use a full spectrum light box.
- Turn down the lights 1-2 hours before bed.
- Switch to Night mode on all your screens (phone, computer, tablet) – do this in the evening when the sun is down and at least 2-3 hours before bed.
- Try wearing Blue-Green light blocking glasses 1-2 hours before bed, especially if you have trouble sleeping.
- Sleep in a completely dark room (no nightlights, clocks or anything that lights up), get black out shades for your windows.
- Use red/amber tinted night lights (like for the bathroom and hallways)
- Eat 3 meals per day around the same time each day, routine is key.
- Eat within 1 hour of waking and definitely no later than 10am. Start with protein
- Keep your diet low in sugar and white refined carbs and high in fiber and protein. This helps maintain your blood sugar which is essential for healthy HPA function.
- Avoid alcohol – alcohol is bad for sleep and lowers our melatonin production.
- Eat an early dinner – finish eating at least 3-4 hours before bed. Dinner by 5-6pm is best
- Shift your eating window up and consume most calories earlier in the day.
- Morning before noon is best. 2nd best is 2-6pm.
- The worst time for exercise is in the evening, except for walking which is great anytime.
- Sleep and R&R (Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Making some time each day for some Rest & Recovery)
- Wake between 5-7am
- To bed between 8-10pm
- Relaxing activities after dinner – meditation, conversation with friends, warm bath, music, restorative yoga, reading
- No working 1 hour before bed
- No screens or TV 1-2 hours before bed (for deeper sleep)
- Keep the bedroom colder for night time sleeping
- Consider taking a melatonin supplement before bed
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.