Sleep, Circadian Rhythm, and Mental Health: How To Normalize Your Circadian Rhythm For Your Mental Health

Discover the importance of timing your sleep with your circadian rhythm to improve your mental health and how circadian rhythm fasting can help you achieve this.
Sleep, Circadian Rhythm, and Mental Health: How To Normalize Your Circadian Rhythm For Your Mental Health
8 min read

Importance of Sleep and Mental Health

A deficiency in sleep may cause inflammation, depression, and hypo-manic (feeling of euphoria) symptoms to arise amongst other things. I previously wrote about the link between inflammation and mental health in, “Inflammation, The Microbiome, and Mental Health: Regulating Mental Health through Diet”.

Charles Czeisler explains why we’re sleeping less than we did a generation ago, and the damaging effects it’s having on our health, from increased diagnoses of psychiatric illness to heart disease to obesity.

“Below is a graphical representation of the sleep patterns of a normally timed, late timed and early timed body clock. Your normal circadian rhythm is ideally timed to the top graph: the normally timed body clock.” (https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/biohacking-articles/how-to-re-time-your-circadian-rhythms/)

Ideal sleep times
From http://bengreenfieldfitness.com

“In other words, in an ideal 24 hour cycle, you’re supposed to wake up sometime between 6am and 7am and you’re supposed to go to bed sometime between 10pm and 11pm. It’s just the way we humans are wired.”
(https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/biohacking-articles/how-to-re-time-your-circadian-rhythms/)

It has been said that individuals with my condition, bipolar disorder, have “an abnormality in their circadian rhythm system” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935164/) leading to irregular sleep and sleep disturbances. I can verify this through my own life experiences, I’ve always had a hard time sleeping and have had an irregular sleep cycle. That is, until now. After adopting the anti-inflammation diet and 13-hour circadian rhythm fasting (explained in further detail towards the end), my sleep has now normalized to an ideal state! This is miraculous to me as it only took a week for it to normalize to this ideal state. I’ve never felt better and fall asleep as quickly as I do now. I even wake up without an alarm clock and function throughout the day without any caffeine! You can explore my sleeping pattern in Yan’s Journey > Sleep. (*Note: I started logging my sleep on the site around the same time I started the anti-inflammation diet and fasting.)

I’ll explain more in-depth about how poor my sleep used to be before my dietary change and fasting to be more specific. I usually went to bed late, 3 or 4am and it used to take me 2-3 hours on average to fall asleep. That means I would finally be sleeping when ideally you should be waking up. Sometimes I would sleep 3-4 hours and other times over 12 hours. There were times when I wouldn’t sleep at all as well. Going to bed early for me usually meant sleeping by 12am.

My caffeine use was pretty high as well. Usually needing 3-4 medium to large size cups of coffee to get through the day. This was on top of drinking Coca-Cola as well 1-2 times a day. I would even take naps and still feel tired throughout the day.

Now I hope you can see just how miraculous this turn of events is for me.

Circadian Rhythm and Mental Health

“Often referred to as the ‘body clock,’ the circadian rhythm is a cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, eat—regulating many physiological processes. This internal body clock is affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature. When one’s circadian rhythm is disrupted, sleeping and eating patterns can run amok. A growing body of research is examining the adverse health effects a disrupted circadian rhythm can have, like increasing the chances of cardiovascular events, obesity, and a correlation with neurological problems like depression and bipolar disorder.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/circadian-rhythm)

“One of the most common, and highly disruptive co-morbid problems in many psychiatric conditions, including depression, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia, is disruption in the sleep–wake cycle … Given that changes in hippocampal neurogenesis are observed following chronic circadian disruption, and that cell birth and proliferation in the hippocampus is related to mood and antidepressant efficacy (Gibson et al., ), it is evident that circadian disruption may contribute to the development or exacerbation of depressive disorders … In addition to cognitive deficits and depression, circadian rhythm abnormalities have also been explored in mania. It is well established that during manic episodes, sleep patterns are significantly altered (Wehr et al., ; Plante and Winkelman, ; Robillard et al., ), and circadian patterns of several physiological functions are attenuated (Goetze and Tolle, ; Souetre et al., ; McClung, ) … Mutations in the core clock gene Clock can lead to mania-like behaviors (Roybal et al., ), and site-specific knockdown of Clock in the VTA can induce similar manic-like behaviors (Mukherjee et al., ). Together, the human and non-human animal models provide strong evidence that circadian dysfunction is not only a component of some forms of mania, but that altering the function of the molecular circadian clock can mimic many of these effects … We hypothesize that disrupted circadian clocks may instead make individuals more susceptible to the development of neuropsychiatric disorders (Karatsoreos and McEwen, ). This effect may be in a manner similar to the stress-diathesis model, whereby environmental challenges have more severe outcomes due to underlying genetic or experiential differences (Morley, ). Thus, chronic circadian disruption through genetic abnormalities or environmental perturbation could make neural systems less able to cope with insults. This failure in resilience could lead to the onset of neuropsychiatric conditions in those individuals who are made more vulnerable because of other factors such as genetics, developmental experiences, or environmental exposures.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018537/)

Circadian rhythm disruption also exacerbates chronic inflammation in the intestine. “Together, our data suggest that circadian rhythm stability is pivotal for the maintenance of mucosal barrier function. CRD increases intestinal necroptosis, thus rendering the gut epithelium more susceptible to inflammatory processes.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28710114) If you read, “Inflammation, The Microbiome, and Mental Health: Regulating Mental Health through Diet”, you’ll understand why chronic low-grade inflammation is bad for your mental health.

You can also read this news post from the Salk Institute about circadian rhythm disturbances causing inflammation – https://www.salk.edu/news-release/salk-scientists-discover-molecular-link-between-circadian-clock-disturbances-and-inflammatory-diseases/

How I Normalized My Circadian Rhythm and Regained My Mental Health: 13-Hour Circadian Rhythm Fasting & f.lux App

Jason led me to discover the wonderful work of Dr. Satchin Panda who specializes in circadian rhythm and your health. He’s a researcher at the Salk Institute and has developed an app called “My Circadian Clock” which he uses as a research tool to conduct an international study on time-restricted eating.

I highly suggest listening to Dr. Satchin Panda’s interview by Dave Asprey, creator of Bulletproof Coffee, on Bulletproof Radio. It’s split into two parts. Part 1 explores light, dark, and your sleep and you can listen to it here:

Part 2 explores light, dark, and your belly and you listen to it here:

Dr. Satchin Panda states that circadian rhythm fasting has many benefits. That the timing of when you eat is essential for your health. Benefits include reduced cholesterol levels, decreased risk of diabetes and obesity, less inflammation, and greater longevity, amongst other benefits.

I immediately decided to try it after hearing it may reduce inflammation. I decided to use an app called, “Zero” to track my fasts because it’s more user-friendly than “My Circadian Clock” according to reviews.

You basically start fasting between 6pm-7pm (sunset) and can begin eating 13-hours after your last meal. I’ve also heard that 11 – 12 hour circadian rhythm fasting may yield better results.

Here are screenshots of my fasts for the past two weeks from the Zero app:

2/23/2018 - 3/1/2018 Yan's Circadian Rhythm Fasting Zero app screenshot

3/2/2018 - 3/8/2018 Yan's Circadian Rhythm Fasting Zero app screenshot

 

Since light also disrupts your circadian rhythm, suppressing the sleep helping hormone melatonin, I use another app Jason introduced me to called “f.lux“.

f.lux “makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.” It eliminates your computer screens blue glow and changes it to a more yellow one. Set it and forget it, it adjusts automatically based on where you live.

I also dim the lights at home at night and use “Night Shift” mode on my iPhone. Night shift functions similar to f.lux just not as well.

Doing these things have greatly improved my sleeping and have normalized my circadian rhythm. Have a look for yourself by checking out my recorded sleep and wake times here: Yan’s Journey > Sleep.

I’ve never felt better as I do now since my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and I’ve never fallen asleep so quickly, had such deep rest, and have been able to wake up naturally and consistently without an alarm clock.

I owe this mostly to doing circadian rhythm fasting.

My mind is clear, I have more energy, am more alert, able to focus and concentrate better than ever before.

I truly believe that aligning your sleep with your circadian rhythm greatly improves your mental health and highly reduces my chances of experiencing mood disturbances.

Jason’s Hack

Jason also uses blue light blocking glasses to help decrease circadian rhythm disturbances at night. He learned about these after reading Dr. Mercola’s article, “Light at Night Damages Your Health and Potentially Future Generations“. “In addition to eliminating all light exposure when you go to bed, it is also really important to filter light after sunset. The only light source our ancient ancestors had at night was from fire, which has virtually no blue or green light. Exposure to these light frequencies after the sun sets virtually assures that you will lower your melatonin and melanopsin levels. It also increases your risk of blindness from macular degeneration.”

The glasses Jason uses are these:

 Uvex Skyper Blue Light Blocking Computer Glasses with SCT-Orange Lens

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000USRG90?ref=yo_pop_ma_swf

Dr. Mercola, however, recommends these glasses in the article.

Whichever glasses you choose, I’m sure you’ll be satisfied. With similar price points and review ratings, you can’t go wrong.

The glasses won’t make you look cool… at all… but they work. For cooler (but more expensive) pairs go here:

Gunnar Blue-Light Blocking Glasses

Classic Box Set

Best wishes in your quest to improve your mental health and circadian rhythm!

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