We’ve known for years that life on earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet and that living organisms, including humans, have a biological clock that helps us anticipate and adjust to the rhythm of the day.
This regular, ever-changing adaptation is referred to as the circadian rhythm.
Significant data from multiple studies indicate that there’s a price to pay for our fast-paced, around-the-clock lifestyles. Because the physiological functions of almost all organisms are governed by 24-hour circadian rhythms, disrupting this rhythm can have far-reaching effects. Our internal clocks adapt our physiology to various phases throughout the day with exquisite precision. Our circadian rhythms regulate critical functions such as hormone levels, sleep, body temperature, metabolism, and even behavior.
A recent study in mice where light/dark cycles were altered showed that after just six weeks, the disrupted mice gained weight, showed less mental flexibility, and were more impulsive than the mice kept on their natural schedule.
Establish healthy habits
Supporting this biological rhythm in our daily lifestyles starts with exposing ourselves to bright light during the day and sleeping in absolute darkness. If you’re unable to get out in nature or if you work in a windowless office, using full-spectrum lighting can help. In the evenings, avoid screens that emit blue light and use bulbs that are low in blue light to help support natural melatonin release. Also, bedrooms need to be pitch black, that is, so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
Sleep with the sun
Although we all require different amounts of sleep, the sweet spot is typically around eight hours and timing can be very critical. Our circadian rhythms are optimal when we sleep when it’s dark and get up when the sun comes up, so ideally between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Essentially, the various systems in our bodies are programmed to perform scheduled tasks at specific times during the 24 hour wake-sleep cycle. Varied sleep or meal times act against these clocks, causing our physiology to break down.
A disrupted Circadian Rhythm results in
- Increased hunger and weight gain
- Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
- Exacerbation of existing diseases
(Parkinson disease, Alzheimers, multiple
sclerosis, kidney disease, behavioral
problems in children, gastrointestinal
- Increased anxiety
- Elevated blood pressure
- Suppressed immune response
For medical support in regaining your wake-sleep cycle balance and restoring your natural circadian rhythm, visit the Naturopathic Clinic on the third floor in Bellevue. We can further educate and guide you in reducing the habits that are preventing you from optimal health, based on your personal medical history and lifestyle. Allow our experts to help you in promoting healthy habits that create measurable results.
The 2017 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to two doctors for their discovery of the mechanisms within the cell that control the circadian rhythm, or our internal clock. The Nobel Prize winners isolated a gene that controls this rhythm and discovered that it encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and is then degraded during the day. This proves that our sleep schedules play an integral role in our health. Our cells simply can’t do their job if we don’t give them the sleep that they need.
By Dr. Brooke Weitz, Naturopathic Medicine