Slave to the Rhythm – Where would Humanity be Without our Circadian Rhythm?
Body temperature, blood pressure, metabolism and sleep patterns, it’s our circadian rhythm after all that has determined humanity’s diurnal existence. In every multicellular lifeform that exists in fact, cells act as an individual timepiece, ensuring biological processes – hormones secreted, nutrients absorbed and metabolised – occur in the optimal order.
However, it wasn’t until recently that we were able to greatly enhance our understanding of circadian rhythms, due to the work of Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young – winners of the 108th Nobel prize in physiology or medicine. Their work had focussed on the ‘period’ gene, as found in the common fruit fly, which encoded a protein within the cell during the night that then degraded during the day. As a result, when the fruit fly’s external surroundings contradicted its internal clock, this would often leave the fly severely disorientated, much like when a human experiences jet lag.
Such is the nature of modern day-to-day life, many of us are now unable to ensure that our body’s internal clock remains in-sync with our external conditions. Late-night work shifts, variable sleep patterns and our attachment to bright, technological gadgets invariably prevents us from keeping our circadian rhythms in-check, and thus, increases our risk of developing mental illnesses, diabetes (type 2), and even cancer.
So, what can we do to get back in-time with our internal body clock? Below are three top tips for getting back into the rhythm, and finally reaping the numerous awards that come with obeying our circadian rhythm:
1) Slow It Down: “Music is one of the best ways to retrain your body to chill out,” said Dr. Frank Lipman, author of Revive: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again (2008). Entrainment – the process by which our internal body clock speeds up or slows down in order to put our bodies in-sync with our surroundings – can be brought about by music’s powerful influence upon breathing rates. For example, slow/chilled/ambient music has been said to enormously aid in appropriating your circadian rhythm to its external surroundings, such as by preparing your body and mind for rest. So, after a hard day’s work, gradually enter a more relaxed frame of mind as you near your bedtime, perhaps by taking a warm bath, lighting an indulgent scented candle, and turning to a slow, pacifying playlist/musical mix.
2) Eat It Up: ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper’ is a particularly well-known saying, but did you know of its biological relevance? Because your body’s metabolism will peak at approximately noon, it is better for you to ingest the majority of your calorific content during Breakfast and Lunch, and have a relatively smaller meal at Dinner. What’s more, Dr. Lipman suggests that we should be focussing upon proteins and fats for Breakfast, to make sure we have the necessary energy to make it through the day. Goodbye sugary cereals. Hello Peanut Butter Oatmeal Smoothies…
3) Turn It Off: Blue light – the light emitted by your smart phone, your laptop etc. – and its negative effect upon humans’ quality of sleep is well-documented. It’s no surprise therefore that Larry Rosen of the Harvard Business Review says that turning off all of your light-emitting devices one hour before bedtime is essential to improving your quality of your sleep. The reason lies in melatonin, a hormone released in accordance with the person’s exposure to light that attacks those particles known as “reactive oxygen species”, or particles capable of damaging your cells. In that sense, turning off/covering up every glowing or jittering light in your place of rest is essential to putting yourself in a position where sleep can both be induced, and provide deep, restorative rest.