Circadian Rhythms and Diabetes

Understanding circadian rhythms and their role in diabetes.

At first glance, it may be easy to understand what the circadian rhythm is. It’s an internal 24h clock that regulates many activities of the human body, including sleep patterns. But what does this mean? What are some examples? If you have diabetes, how does your circadian rhythm impact diabetes? And how can you really use it to your advantage? Let’s discover all this and more right now!

What Is the Circadian Rhythm?

The human body has an internal clock known as a circadian rhythm. This is basically the cycle that governs which hormones are released, when we sleep and wake up, etc. All of this information is derived from a gland known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is found in your hypothalamus.

The circadian rhythm consists of three different processes: suppression of melatonin secretion, increased body temperature during the day, and suppressed core body temperature at night. These all happen will various degrees throughout the day, but they’re slightly more obvious at certain times than others. For example, if you take a blood sample from someone at 7 pm, it will have a higher melatonin level than if you took a blood sample from them at 8 am because their body suppresses melatonin production overnight.

To be a bit more technical, the circadian rhythm is a cyclical process that moves through five stages- from low to high: darkness, release of melatonin, body temp goes up slightly, remains steady for a long time period, then body temp drops.

Chart showing how the circadian rhythm affects the human body throughout the day.

What Does the Circadian Rhythm Have To Do With Sleep?

Circadian rhythms and sleep go hand in hand because they both happen on an approximately 24-hour cycle (give or take), and one affects the other.

For example, if you stay up late one night, your circadian rhythm doesn’t coincide with the natural light environment causing your brain to think it’s still nighttime and not time to wake up until later. This causes tiredness and eventually can lead to insomnia. That’s why people with insomnia usually have a difficult time getting up in the morning.

However, if you go to bed early and wake up at the same time every day, your circadian rhythm will gradually synch up with your environment. So there’s less of a chance that when you wake up, it’ll feel like the middle of the night.

How the Circadian Rhythm Affects You

Circadian rhythms are very important to the human body because they help regulate all kinds of biological processes, including but not limited to hunger, thirst, hormone production, and hormone release.

Sleep is one of the most vital parts of your circadian rhythm. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will suffer from fatigue and eventually chronic sleep deprivation. And this can lead to a lot of negative side effects such as less ability to pay attention or concentrate, clumsiness, more frequent headaches/migraines, loss of appetite, and an increased risk for metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity.

It’s important to establish a consistent sleep routine. If you go to bed at different times every night, it will be harder to get a good night’s sleep. But it’s not just about going to bed at the same time every day. It’s also about waking up naturally and not being disturbed by noise or light when you’re trying to fall asleep or wake up.

Another example is jet lag. Flight attendants and people who travel great distances every day know the struggle of adapting to a new time zone after long flights. In order to speed up this process, you should try to abide as much as possible by your natural rhythm, i.e., follow the sun! For example, if you arrive in New York at 9 pm local time but want to go to bed at 1 am, it’s not going to work out too well.

What Are Chronotypes?

Graphic of different chronotypes - night owl and early bird.We all know that some people are morning people while others prefer staying up late into the night. The secret lies in what we call our chronotype, i.e., where our circadian rhythms place us on a scale from early birds to night owls. Staying in sync with your chronotype can help you have an easier time following your natural rhythm and therefore be more productive during the day.

Depending on which scientific research you read, you’ll find different chronotype classifications. Some research suggests only two chronotypes, usually an ‘early bird’ or ‘lark’ and ‘night owl.’ Other research has 4-6 different chronotypes.

If you’re interested in finding more about your chronotype, we suggest taking this free quiz.

There’s no “correct” chronotype because everyone is different. For example, some people might function best as an early bird, while others might not be able to get up at 6 am every day and still be productive. That’s okay! The important thing is that you find out your chronotype and try to work with it as much as possible.

How To Use Your Chronotype to Your Advantage

Knowing your chronotype can help you better understand how you work best. If you’re an early bird, for example, it would be wise not to try and stay up late working on a project or studying for an exam because you will likely not be as productive as you would be during the morning. Trying to force yourself into an owl’s schedule is just going to make you tired and cranky.

On the other hand, if you’re an early bird, try to take advantage of your natural rhythm by waking up early to get some work done or exercise before the day gets too hectic. And if you know that you’re not going to be able to stick to your routine perfectly, don’t be too hard on yourself! We all have our ups and downs; just do your best to stay as close to your natural rhythm as possible.

Chronotypes and Work - How To Find the Right Job for You

If you’re not sure what your chronotype is, or if you know that you’re not always going to be able to stick to your natural rhythm, try doing some research on the types of jobs that fit with different chronotypes.

As discussed earlier, owls tend to function best at night, while early birds usually work best in the morning. If you’re an owl, for example, it’s a good idea to avoid thinking about opening a bakery because chances are your business will not be super successful since most people stop buying bread from bakeries around 2-3 pm when they start thinking about dinner! And if you’re a night owl, you might want to think twice before taking a job as a medical resident. Being up all hours of the night will make it very hard for you to do your job properly.

Of course, not all science is cut and dry. We all know people who function best at night but still manage to put in a day’s work at an office or stay awake during family dinners because they’re usually early birds. And if you’re the kind of person who loves staying up all hours of the night, working late nights shouldn’t cause any problems with your circadian rhythm (as long as it doesn’t become a habit).

Diabetes, Circadian Rhythms, and Chronotypes - What's the Link?

A lot of research suggests a link between diabetes and circadian rhythms. In fact, some scientists believe that circadian rhythm disruptions actually cause diabetes!

There are many factors that contribute to the development of diabetes, but one of the most important ones may be our natural body clock. Scientists have found that when people have disrupted circadian rhythms, their blood sugar levels are more unstable, and they’re more likely to develop insulin resistance (a key factor in developing diabetes).

So what can we do to help keep our circadian rhythms healthy and prevent diabetes? It’s not always easy to stick to a healthy routine, but fortunately, there are some things we can do to help keep our natural rhythms in check:

  • Try to stick to a regular sleeping schedule, even on the weekends. Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day can help keep your natural rhythm intact.
  • Avoid bright lights before bedtime. If you must use your phone or tablet before going to sleep, make sure you’re using apps that filter out blue light. Blue light stimulates cells in our eyes to wake us up, making it harder for us to fall asleep at night if we look at them too close to bedtime.
  • Woman walking outside for exercise while holding light weights.Get some sunlight during the day. Sunlight is a natural way to help keep our circadian rhythms in check. Aim for at least 15 minutes of sunlight exposure each day.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is not only good for our physical health, but it’s also great for our mental health! Regular exercise can help keep our circadian rhythms healthy and stable. It can also make it easier to fall asleep at night.
  • Eat regular meals and avoid eating large amounts of food late at night. Our body clock controls many aspects of digestion, so eating large meals late at night can throw off our rhythm. Try to space out your meals throughout the day instead.

Managing your sleep and ensuring you’re getting the right amount of sleep is an important part of managing your diabetes. If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, managing sleep is essential to helping reverse diabetes.

Understanding your chronotype and circadian rhythm is an important tool to help you get the best sleep possible. Use this information to plan for when you go to bed, wake up, exercise, and do other daily activities.

Learn more about the sleep affects diabetes:

The Bottom Line

One of the most important things to know about circadian rhythms is that they are not static! They can vary throughout our lives. For example, teenagers often have a different rhythm than adults. This is why it’s so important for them to get enough sleep (which can be hard when you’re trying to stay up late all the time).

Woman waking up in the morning facing a sunny window with an alarm clock in front of her.So now that we know a bit more about what circadian rhythms are and how they affect us, let’s see how we can use this information to our advantage! First, we should create a routine that works with our own rhythm. If you’re an early bird, waking up and going to bed early will help you be at your best during the day. And if you’re a night owl, staying up late and sleeping in might actually help you too!

We can also use circadian rhythms to improve our overall health by getting enough sleep every night following our natural pattern (even on weekends). One hour of sleep loss per night has been shown to increase blood pressure and impair glucose metabolism.

Finally, we should try not to mess with our chronotype too much. Even though it’s pretty hard for teenagers or people who work rotating shifts to stick to their natural rhythm perfectly, it’s still important to try. Forcing yourself into a different routine can lead to fatigue and other health problems, including diabetes.

In conclusion, circadian rhythms are very important in regulating many different aspects of our lives. It’s important to find out your chronotype and try to work with it as much as possible. Establishing a consistent sleep routine will help you optimize your time for better productivity. If you’re an early bird, it’s best to get up when the sun rises and if you’re an owl, try to take advantage of nightlife! It’s all about finding what works best for you.