As I slowly read and journal my way through the book “Slow Time“, I am at week 4, the chapter on “Night and Day”. In times past, humans rose with the sun and then went to bed when it set. Our biological rhythm followed the day and night cycle. Today most of us stay up long after sunset and are exposed to artificial light from lamps, television and computer screens. In effect, we have created an artificial day and our bodies react at varying levels to this environment. I know that I feel like hibernating at this time of year when, because of the holiday season, it is actually one of the busiest times of year. I can feel this tension in my physical body at times as it works hard to get everything done. It’s important to allow time to just “be”.
The internal rhythm in our body that is directly affected by the day and night cycle is called the circadian rhythm. Most people become aware of this rhythm when it becomes imbalanced from traveling between time zones and experiencing “jet lag”. There is a cluster of cells located right behind our eyes that regulates this rhythm.
Studies have identified another biological rhythm, the ultradian rhythm, that cycles every 1 1/2-2 hours throughout our day. There are 4 parts to this rhythm: an arousal, a peak performance, a stress period followed by a rest period. Do you ever feel that you need to take a break from a project or task? You’re probably in the “stress” part of your rhythm. Taking a break for 15-20 minutes is refreshing and you can return to your task rejuvenated. It is when we work against these natural rhythms that imbalances can occur. Interestingly enough, around 3-4pm each day both of these rhythms, ultradian and circadian, are at their lowest points. Ever feel draggy at that time of day? It’s a perfect time for an afternoon tea break. Or better yet, a siesta.
If you ever have problems falling asleep, it could be because of all of the artificial light stimulation experienced at night. The best thing to do is to limit your artificial light exposure and do something relaxing and soothing for the couple hours before your bedtime. Turn off the television and computer. Light some candles, listen to soothing music, take a warm bath, drink a cup of hot de-caf or herbal tea, meditate, write in your journal, do an activity with a meditative rhythm like knitting, crocheting or beading. These activities gently prepare and open you up for a restful sleep. Sweet dreams!