Understanding circadian rhythms: A freelancer’s guide

Your body's natural internal clock, the circadian rhythm, regulates your sleep and wakefulness patterns throughout the day. This repetitive rhythm helps determine the amount of sleep and awake time you get daily.

The main factors affecting your circadian rhythm are light and darkness, which communicate with your brain and trigger the release of hormones that keep you awake or sleepy.

While working as a freelancer, you might frequently experience disruptions in your rhythm due to changing work demands. The tips in this article will help you deal with these interruptions, maintain good routines, and manage your body's natural rhythm in the best way possible.

Let's get in!

What is Circadian Rhythm?

A circadian rhythm involves all the physiological functions of a typical 24-hour day. The term "circadian" is derived from two Latin words: "circa," which means "round," and "dies," which means "day." 

Humans' bodies and brains go through cycles during the day and night. These cycles change the body's physical and mental states, mood, and behavior. These are not unique to humans but also apply to plants and animals. Almost all bodily tissues contain an abstract "circadian clock" that regulates these 24-hour rhythms. 

One of the most well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. Generally speaking, people feel more awake during the day and more tired at night. Circadian processes, however, affect not only sleep but also metabolism, temperature, mood, and appetite.

Modern life realities often blur the line between night and day. Because of this, many people have trouble keeping up a regular, healthy rhythm, which can badly affect their physical and mental health.

What are the factors that affect circadian rhythm?

Changes in your body and the environment can cause your rhythms to fall out of sync with the natural light-dark cycle. Let us look at four main factors that affect circadian rhythm:

1. Lights and colors

Light keeps your body in rhythm with a 24-hour day. The body uses sunlight to tell the difference between day and night. When the eyes perceive light, it prepares the body for daytime behavior. Therefore, being exposed to light at night disturbs the circadian rhythm.

Before artificial lights, people had very little light at night. Numerous sources of nighttime light are available today, including television, computer screens, e-readers, smartphones, and tablet computers. Exposure to light at night, particularly white or blue light, disrupts the circadian system, causing it to become disconnected from the natural cycle of light and darkness.

2. Bad sleeping habits

 Unhealthy sleep patterns can badly affect your circadian rhythm for the entire day. Poor sleep could be caused by one or more of the following:

  • late night and early morning activities

  • not going to bed at a regular time

  • late-night meals or drinks 

  • intake of caffeine or other stimulants in the evening

  • use of light-emitting devices late into the night

  • completing mental-stimulating tasks late in the day

  • sleeping in an uncomfortable posture or environment.

3. Irregular work shifts or night shifts

People who work late hours or all night may experience disruptions in their circadian rhythms.

Researchers have found that night shift workers experience more health issues than daytime workers, such as higher rates of several cancer types, heart and digestion issues, and psychological and psychiatric disorders.

4. Travel

Jet lag is a sleep disorder that occurs when someone quickly travels through several time zones as their body tries to acclimate to the time zone of the new location. Jet-lagged people may experience changes that affect their well-being, such as feeling sleepy during the day or awake at night until their rhythm returns to normal. This could last from a day to a week.

Circadian rhythms do not reset instantly. The lag in harmonizing these internal rhythms with current environmental conditions often causes sleep disturbances, fatigue, metabolic problems, and hormonal and mood changes.

You might experience one or more of these issues frequently as a freelancer due to the nature of your work. They can seriously disrupt your rhythms, so you must learn to manage them well. Would you be interested in using software that automates your tasks so you can complete more work in a shorter amount of time? That’s what Workee does.

How do circadian rhythms affect mental health?

A lot of research has been done to show the link between circadian rhythms and mental health. Already, we know that irregular sleep patterns are related to mood swings. No matter what causes them—whether it's jet lag, erratic work schedules, or exposure to artificial light at night—all of these things can worsen mood disorders in people already predisposed to them.

Let's look at how rhythmic disruptions can impact specific mental disorders.

  • Major depressive disorder 

This mental health condition causes a person to become extremely sad and irritable. It is usually diagnosed when symptoms like changes in sleep, lack of appetite and sexual desire, passivity, slurred speech, slowed movement, crying, and suicidal thoughts persist for at least two weeks and interfere with normal daily functions like sleeping and eating.

Bright light therapy, wake therapy, social rhythm therapy, and antidepressants are some of the most successful treatments because they help the body's circadian rhythms return to normal. Wake therapy, for example, directly modifies the patient's sleep-wake pattern.

  • Anxiety

When external factors such as night lights or night shift work disrupt circadian rhythms, it can lead to sleep disruption and anxiety-like behavior. According to one study, day workers who switched to rotating shift schedules reported increased anxiety and sleep problems, even though they had never experienced either.

  • Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is defined by extreme mood swings that range from mania to depression, with periods of normal behavior in between. These mood changes are very different from the person's usual behavior and usually cause changes in sleep and eating patterns. Jet lag has been shown to trigger bipolar episodes as people travel across multiple time zones. Travelers from east to west are more likely to develop depression, while travelers from west to east are more likely to develop mania.

  • Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious and uncommon mental illness that frequently results in delusions, hallucinations, introversion, attention problems, working memory problems, and other symptoms. How severely these symptoms manifest depends on how much the circadian rhythm is disturbed. Although some studies suggest that people who have traveled across time zones and may suffer from jet lag exhibit more symptoms, there is no hard evidence to back this up.

To sum up, individuals with the aforementioned mental health conditions often experience alterations in their circadian rhythm. Although not the sole contributor to mood disorders, these disruptions may exacerbate symptoms in those already susceptible.

How to improve your circadian rhythm

Any of the above factors can disrupt one's circadian process, but with these tips, you can reset it to what works best for you: 

  • Make daily routines and try to follow them. This enables you to perform certain activities by helping your body associate them with a specific time.

  • Exercise every day. Exercise helps you stay alert and perform at your best throughout the day. Aerobics should generally last for 20 minutes or longer.

  • Sleep well. Sleep in a setting that encourages rest, with good lighting, temperature, and a firm mattress.

  • Spend as much time outside as possible to increase your alertness during the day.

  • Avoid stimulants in the evening, such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.

  • Before bed, turn off your devices and try calming things like reading a book or meditating.

Understanding your circadian rhythm as a freelancer

You risk disrupting your circadian rhythms every day because you may not work a traditional 9-to-5 schedule as a freelancer. You might work nonstop on some days, stay up late on other days, and do nothing on others. However, to be as productive as possible on work days, you can plan your activities around your daily energy levels.

Your rhythm helps determine the tasks you should do at each point in the day. When you are most alert, for instance, it is best to work on tasks that demand a lot of mental effort and concentration, such as the essential elements of your job. Depending on your line of work, this could be analytics, writing, editing, creating lesson plans, designing, etc. As your energy wanes, You can switch to less demanding administrative tasks, like email correspondence. You could also use the time for a recreative break.

As a freelancer, circumstances may sometimes force you to work outside your peak performance period. But whenever you can, try to work with rather than against your biological rhythms. You'll be more successful and productive if you recognize your daily highs and lows and modify your workflow accordingly. 

Workee is excellent for all forms of freelancing. All over the world, freelancers use Workee to simplify their work. It is very useful for keeping track of your clients and organizing your online workspace. 

With intelligent booking and scheduling features, Workee helps you manage your meetings across time zones. When you set up appointments, you get reminders as the date approaches.

You can also create automated service invoices and payments, records of payments, automatic tax calculations, and support for multiple currencies without commission fees.

Workee's video call and conferencing features and top-notch video applications allow you to have effective conversations with your client and take notes during phone calls.

Our client management tool will help you keep your attention on the client. Session management, payment processing, and other client information can be handled digitally.

These features, and many more, will help you stand out as a professional in your field.


Your circadian rhythm is the usual process your body goes through every solar day. It is affected by various factors, including unpredictable work schedules, jet lag, device lights, etc. As a freelancer who must deal with all these regularly, you must discover your rhythm and work accordingly to avoid long-term health problems.

Workee helps freelancers manage their work demands more effectively, making them more efficient and organized.

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Ihor, CEO at Workee

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