It's common knowledge that habitually looking at your glowing iPhone or laptop screen before bed can mess with your sleep cycle, eventually triggering anxiety and even insomnia. But as board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist Felice Gersh, MD, points out on MindBodyGreen, a bad bout of jet lag or even an off-kilter weekend can have the same effect.
"If you don't keep a consistent sleep schedule—even with short interruptions, such as going to bed later and eating at different times on the weekend—you risk developing a sleep-phase disorder," she explains. "This amounts to your body thinking it is in a different time zone than the one you're living in. Your hormone and neurotransmitter production changes, and directly—through the activation of the adrenal axis—and indirectly—through inflammation in the gut—your mental health starts to fail, and anxiety and depression can set in."
She explains how our bodies' internal clocks enable us to "anticipate the sun's rising and setting and control much of our physiology," and that scientists are just now beginning to understand the connection between circadian rhythm and well-being. To correct any anxiety or sleep issues associated with inconsistent sleeping or eating patterns, she recommends focusing on sun exposure.
"Sunlight trains the master clock in the brain to stay on track," she explains. "You should start each day with exposure to bright light in the morning, get sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the middle of the day, and then end each day by watching the sunset and dimming the lights in your home." Diet and lifestyle choices play an equally crucial role—too many animal products and unhealthy eating at irregular hours of the day can "disrupt your circadian rhythm in much the same way as working a night shift can."
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Head over to MindBodyGreen for more from Gersh, and read what happens to your brain when you check your phone first thing in the morning next.