The Importance of Living in Balance with Circadian Rhythms

Suppose you’ve ever tried to defy the laws of nature, perhaps by staying out all night dancing to your favorite songs, or staying up way too late binge-watching Netflix. In that case, you probably know first-hand that you ultimately always end up paying for it. And there is a good reason for this! It’s primarily due to the natural cycles known as circadian rhythms. We’re all influenced by circadian rhythms, like it or not, and try as we may to fight against them.

In 2017, the Nobel Prize went to researchers Jeffery C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young for their research on circadian rhythms and discovering a gene that helps control the body’s internal clock. These researchers found that a particular gene produces a protein that builds up in cells at night and then breaks down during the day. This cycle affects when you sleep, mental function and clarity, and more.

The term circadian comes from the Latin words “circa,” meaning around, and “diem,” meaning day. These natural rhythms operate in all living things, from plants to humans and everything in between, and describe the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur over a period of about 24-hours.

Numerous factors impact circadian rhythms, including internal factors (like hormones and genetics) and external factors (like light, temperature, and sound). Changes in our circadian rhythm can affect our mood, energy levels, productivity, cognitive function, ability to sleep at night, and even our risk for various diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. 

 

What controls the circadian rhythm? 

Circadian rhythms are controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This tiny brain region receives information from the light receptors in the eyes and helps synchronize our bodies for optimal daily performance. You experience the effects of your circadian rhythm when you feel tired at bedtime or naturally awake and energized in the morning. Circadian rhythms are crucial to your health and your happiness, something we’re all about here at REVĪVŌ Resort!  

Our bodies work best when they have a regular sleep, exercise, and eating schedules. If you’re constantly changing your schedule or cannot regulate it on your own, this can lead to increased stress levels and numerous other health concerns. The SCN works in conjunction with various hormones that synchronize daily activities within our bodies. Some of these hormones include melatonin released from the pineal gland at night to help us fall asleep; cortisol which is released from the adrenal glands to reduce inflammation and maintain blood pressure; and dopamine. Medical experts have found that disruptions in these neurotransmitters can be linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and seasonal affective disorder.

 

Why is it important to balance your circadian rhythm? 

Surprisingly, not just wanting or desire motivates us to action, but an inner ticking of a biological clock. Recent studies also indicate that mental health and physical well-being are also related to this internal clock. Many experts also believe that our circadian rhythm affects our immune system. In addition, research also shows that the circadian rhythm affects how we react to medicines and treatments for chronic illnesses. When the circadian rhythm is disrupted or unbalanced due to stress or other factors, it can cause side effects in patients undergoing treatment for cancer and other chronic diseases such as hypertension and gastrointestinal problems.

A study by Harvard researchers found that exposure to too much or too little light can throw off your internal clock and lead to weight gain. Mice exposed to six hours of light each day (the equivalent of working a night shift) gained more weight than mice exposed to a regular 12 hours of light per day. Studies have shown that subjects exposed to bright light for two hours after waking reported a significant improvement in their mood compared with those given dim light during the same period.

What happens in your body at different times of the day?

  • 6:00 am Cortisol secretion begins
  • 6:45 am Sharpest rise in blood pressure
  • 7:00 am Insulin secretion with first meal timing
  • 7:30 am Melatonin secretion stops
  • 8:30 am Bowel movement likely
  • 9:00 am Elevated testosterone levels
  • 10:00 am High alertness
  • 2:30 pm Best coordination
  • 3:30 pm Fastest reaction time
  • 5:00 pm Greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength
  • 6:00 pm peak in lipid levels
  • 6:30 pm Highest blood pressure
  • 7:00 pm Highest body temperature
  • 8:00 pm Peak neutrophil levels
  • 9:00 pm Melatonin secretion starts
  • 10:30 pm Bowel movements suppressed
  • 2:00 am Deepest sleep
  • 2:oo am -4:oo am Peak lymphocyte levels
  • 4:30 am Lowest body temperature

How to Encourage a Balanced Circadian Rhythm

Aligning with naturally occurring cycles of nature is fundamental to a balanced circadian rhythm. To achieve this, we recommend the following:

  • Expose yourself to early morning sunshine: this will help to reinforce one of the most vital circadian cues.
  • Try and go to Sleep around the same time each night. Changing your sleep-wake cycle too frequently interrupts your body’s ability to stabilize its circadian rhythm.
  • Limit your exposure to blue light from devices at least 1 hour before bed. You can also try dimming the lights in your house after dark. That will help send the right signals to your body that Sleep will soon happen!
  • Move your body during the day. Daily exercise is foundational to falling asleep and ensuring you sleep through the night.
  • Limit the amount of caffeine you drink. Caffeine has a long half-life and stays in the bloodstream longer than many people think. If you consume caffeine, try and drink it only in the morning.
  • There’s nothing better than a good afternoon nap, but sleeping too long can throw off your natural sleep cycle. If you do nap, we recommend limiting your nap to 30 minutes.

In the end, our circadian rhythm can significantly impact our health and well-being in several ways. It’s good to remember that this has implications not only for our sleeping habits but also for many aspects of daily life. Food, exercise, and sunlight are just a few ways to improve your circadian rhythm and, thus, overall well-being. If you struggle with your sleep or want to learn more about achieving optimal health, kindly get in touch to discover how our Sleep Well or another of our signature retreats can help.

References:

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

www.sleepfoundation.org

Blog written by Kimberly Rose

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