A runner with a long ponytail wearing exercise clothing jogs past a chainlink fence

MOVEMENT – Build a Better Workout

Get Your Groove Back From Longer Days, Shorter Nights

By Jiji Pollock

Summer is the time when it seems like we can do it all—so why is it that we’re dragging instead of skipping through the longer days?

It could be that we’re off our circadian rhythm, so everything feels more difficult. Our circadian rhythm impacts sleep, metabolism, hormone levels, appetite and so much more: It’s a biological and highly individual pattern for waking and sleeping, and related activities.

Whether you live in Pacific Daylight Time or Eastern Daylight Time, your body’s systems respond to a 24-hour period, driven by a master clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus of the brain. That master clock determines the “usual” times you wake up, those times in the day when you find you get your best workouts, or the usual times you get hungry. And the rest of your organs—heart, brain, muscles and stomach—work with the timing of the SCN.

It’s no wonder you feel like you can’t get your “groove” in your day. But here are some ways to get control of the situation.


Closeup of a hand lighting a candle with a match in a dark room

When light enters your eyes, it signals the SCN it’s time to wake up. Cortisol, a hormone that is high during the day, is especially high when you wake up—and light in your eyes triggers the SCN to keep cortisol levels elevated.

Ever feel “wired” after working on your laptop late at night or after watching a movie?  That’s because the light from the computer or television screen is telling your body to stay awake.

Tip: Sleep is your natural “reset button” for your SCN. Dimming your lights at night as the sun goes down and not using your laptop or smartphone an hour before going to bed will sync your body’s natural clock again.

Longer summer days

A pebble on a sandy beach at sunset

We lose that extra hour of sleep in the spring in order to get those longer days. It may seem like an advantage for those who want to get a lot accomplished. In reality, daylight saving time can wreak havoc to your “groove” if you don’t allow your body to properly adjust.

A study at the University of Helsinki showed that it takes approximately five days to adjust your body to losing that extra hour of sleep. Losing that extra hour of sleep has been associated with increases in heart attacks, traffic accidents and work-related accidents. If you’re forgetful, feeling extra tired or dozing off, your body is signaling a “reset” is crucial.

Tip: Allow your body to fully adjust to the time change by getting enough sleep. Avoid intense workouts for that week after the time change, when injury rates are higher.

Late-night eating

Person sitting on a bed and eating takeout food in a dimly lit room

After eating, your body digests food and produces heat, a process called thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is naturally higher during the day than at night, and the bacteria in your stomach is also more active during the day. Ever have that late-night scoop of ice cream, glass of wine or club sandwich at midnight—and couldn’t fall asleep? That’s your mini-clock in your stomach working overtime, telling your SCN, “Let’s wake up!”

Eating late at night circulates insulin, a hormone that stores fat and energy in cells and other enzymes that should be “off” at night. You might find that midnight snacking causes your weight to creep up over time. Eating most of your meals during the day will help your metabolism stay efficient and help keep the weight off.

Tip: You might find you’re not as hungry during the day or crave certain foods when you eat at reasonable times that are in sync with the mini-clock in your stomach. Schedule your meals and snacking habits during the day, and try not to eat too close to your bedtime.

Timing exercise

Person running up stairs at night in an urban park

Summer schedules are busy, and exercise is important for overall health, so fitness needs to fit into what works with your schedule. But consider your body’s clock, too.

Your heart rate and blood pressure are naturally higher during the day and lower at night when you sleep. The natural drop in your heart rate and blood pressure at night indicate a healthy heart. Allowing your body to relax at night with a lower heart rate and blood pressure lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Have you ever worked out intensely close to bedtime and found it tough to settle into sleep? That’s because working out intensely late at night wakes up the mini-clock in your heart and muscles. At the same time, your nighttime workout might not feel like it’s your best, and that’s because there is less cortisol running through your body to wake up your muscles. (During the day, cortisol is high and helping your heart pump and deliver oxygen to your muscles.)

Tip: Use the morning or daytime for vigorous exercise: high-intensity interval training, intense cardio, heavy strength training. Use the late evening to do lower-intensity exercise such as easy walking, mobility, stretching or swimming.

Burning the midnight oil

Person in a glass-walled office working late at a computer

Are you a night owl? Let’s face it, some of us have to work a graveyard shift to pay the bills. Business work responsibilities require travel. Sometimes meeting deadlines cause us to work late at night. If you’re a nurse, doctor, postal worker, flight attendant, executive or student, this might be the case. Then there are times you want to cut loose and stay out with friends late at night or binge on Netflix episodes.

When you stay up late at night, all the mini-clocks in your body are out of sync with your SCN. Artificial lights are telling your body to stay awake. Your heart and muscles are active when they should be resting. You’re eating meals when your stomach should be resting and digesting.

This is where your health may be at risk of a creeping pattern of weight gain—and increased risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. In fact, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found most obesity rates increase with night-shift work.

Tip: When you know you’ll have to stay up, try to get rest in advance—for example, before your business trip. Stay hydrated, limit alcohol consumption and watch caffeine intake. And if you’re in a different time zone, try to stay on that new schedule instead of staying up extra late or getting up extra early.

Sync your circadian rhythm

Closeup of brass alarm clock

If you feel fatigued, sleepy or can’t sleep or if you’re having digestive issues, feel irritable or foggy, you might need a “reset.” Follow Mother Nature’s cues along with your body’s cues and sync to your circadian rhythm—then watch your performance flow.

Hero video: uzhursky, Shutterstock; photo: Andrew Tanglao, Unsplash
Photos: Enskanto, Getty Images; Harli Marten, Unsplash; DragonImages, Getty Images; vgajic, Getty Images; NoSystem, Getty Images; Isarapic, Getty Images


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Jiji Pollock

Jiji Pollock has been in the health and fitness industry for over 25 years and is passionate about helping individuals maintain health through movement and sustainable healthy habits. She works as an Exercise Physiologist, Health and Human Performance Advisor with the Institute of Motion. She began her passion for health and fitness as a group fitness instructor and recreational triathlete as an undergraduate student. Pollock is a certified personal trainer (former Master Trainer at 24 Hour Fitness), holds a M.S. Kinesiology degree and is currently a PhD Candidate in Health and Human Performance at the Concordia University of Chicago. She enjoys swimming, biking, and running and enjoys rock climbing with her three sons. Her second passion is cooking and dark chocolate.