Listening To The Clock In Our Bodies

– Disclaimer – 

None of the information written below or supplied by links is suitable for follow without a doctor’s consent.

Last week, I talked about three different ways sleeping late can impact your life.

One of them, was a reference to the Circadian Clock. More specifically, Circadian Rhythms which are “24-hour physiological patterns that most organisms, including humans, follow each day.” (Elysium Health)

Since then, I’ve gotten a couple questions concerning night owls, larks, health benefits/risks and along with some doubts of my own, I thought I’d do a quick Q&A.

Following are common questions and answers concerning Circadian Rhythms:

 

How do Circadian Rhythms influence Night Owls (people most active at night)?

Probably the most common question and for good reason. Firstly, studies show that late night proactivity can be a genetic mutation and according to Amanda Onion (Live Science), it’s known as “Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.” The reason I say “can” is because, not everyone who stays up late has the mutation, for others it’s just a choice.

Secondly, regarding Circadian Rhythms, there just isn’t enough research to suggest that the Rhythms might adapt or change to fit one’s schedule. What I can say is that these rhythms are “hardwired from millions of years of the world spinning around.” (Elysium Health). Unlike plants, us humans won’t die if we don’t follow the rhythms but life’s just tough when everything’s out of sync and much easier when it isn’t.

Finally, what’s more important than worrying about how unhealthy it is to be a night owl is making sure that you’re consistently a night owl. After all, there is plenty of research that shows “sleep disruption leads to increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression and cardiovascular disease” (Elysium Health). In other words, if you’re going to sleep at 3 a.m, make sure to continue going to sleep at 3 a.m.

 

I go to sleep at 3 a.m….can I do this for the rest of my life?

Sally Yoo, assistant professor in the Biochemistry and Cell Biology Graduate Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) said it best:

“When you are young, your body can take it,” Yoo said. “But it doesn’t mean that it’s completely okay. It’s like mileage: You’re using up your mileage by doing that kind of [arrhythmic] activity, and that will create problems when your body clock is no longer robust.”

 

Impress me. Why should I worry about Circadian Rhythms?

Challenge accepted and here are just a few examples. According to Sara Yang, “our blood pressure is lowest around 3 a.m….when dawn breaks and we rouse ourselves from bed, our blood pressure rises sharply, increasing the risks of heart attack and stroke between 8 a.m. and noon.” (WebMD)

Secondly, thanks to the body’s natural rhythms, scientists have discovered that asthma strikes hardest at dawn (because our bodies produce less cortisol, an anti-inflammatory steroid, during the night) and allergies often flare in the morning.

Thanks to these findings, scientists have introduced chronotherapy which is the treatment of misaligned Circadian rhythms and medicines/drugs such as “theophylline, which reduces the risk of a morning attack for asthmatics.” (WebMD).

 

Other than the Sun, does anything else influence our Circadian Rhythms?

Great question, and yes, there are other systems. Diet is one of them, no surprise there.  Turns out food has a huge impact on your life and health, who would’ve known? Diet is a “key extrinsic cue interacting with the intrinsic clocks” (Elysium Health) as well as time-restricted feeding and when you eat. Stopping food consumption around 6-7 p.m and not eating for 12 hours will bring short and long-term health benefits.

 

How much sleep should I get and what are the negative effects of getting less?

Seven to nine hours is the recommended amount for adults. Anything less and/or sleep disruption (like I mentioned earlier) can have a “negative impact on mood, focus, cognitive function, and is linked to chronic disease.” (Elysium Health). It’s also recommended to get plenty of daylight and limit artificial light as daylight will help with Circadian realignment.

 

In terms of exercise, when’s the best time? If any?

There’s no research to suggest a relationship between circadian rhythms and exercise, but like the Sun and eating, exercise is important for healthy rhythms. Elysium Health suggests, “exercising often, and saving your anaerobic activities for later in the day.”

 

If I skipped everything else and arrived here, what should I know?

Circadian Rhythms are just like anything else in life:

Why make life harder for yourself?

Swim with the current, not against it.

Then and only then, will you truly know what it means to be alive. 

 

 


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CITATIONS

  1. Elysium Health, Elysium. “The Complete Guide to the Science of Circadian Rhythms.” Endpoints, Endpoints | A Science Publication by Elysium Health, 18 Dec. 2017, endpoints.elysiumhealth.com/the-complete-guide-to-the-science-of-circadian-rhythms-7b78581cbffa.
  2. Onion, Amanda. “Are You a Night Owl? It May Be a Gene Mutation.” LiveScience, Purch, 6 Apr. 2017, www.livescience.com/58573-delayed-sleep-phase-disorder-linked-to-gene-mutation.html.
  3. Yang, Sarah. “The Power of Circadian Rhythms.” WebMD, WebMD, 8 May 2000, www.webmd.com/balance/features/power-of-circadian-rhythms.
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