Circadian Rhythm Disruptions & Your Health

Navigating the Impact of Circadian Rhythm Disruptions on Health and Well-being

You have probably heard someone mention their “internal clock” before. This is a reference to the clock that regulates our bodies and the majority of its functions – the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is the daily rhythmic activity cycle, based on 24-hour intervals, which is exhibited by most organisms (even including worms) and helps regulate sleep, feeding, hormones, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Every cell operates on some form of a circadian rhythm. This circadian clock dictates the optimal time for every function we perform. Functions as seemingly straightforward as sleep are precisely regulated by the natural, circadian rhythm of our bodies.

Simply put, when your circadian clock is off, you are off. That feeling of dysfunction, whether it be fatigue, underperformance, or just being “blah” could be associated with a circadian clock that is not functioning appropriately.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the master timekeeper of the circadian rhythm. Using the clock comparison, the SCN is the clock that all the other clocks in your body look to for direction. 

Naturally, the SCN allows our bodies to operate on a fixed, regulated schedule – humans are designed to function on daily, seasonally, and regionally controlled cycles. 

As with most natural processes, human nature has led to a widespread disruption of our circadian rhythms. While there are cases of people born with altered clocks, the common social patterns we practice today, such as checking our phones before bed or working late at night, illustrate some of the many lifestyle-related causes of dysregulation of circadian rhythms.

This dysregulation can lead to myriad negative health responses like chronic fatigue, weight gain, and various diseases. The clock gene that controls the SCN is responsible for the regulation and change of up to 40 percent of other genes in the body!

When the circadian rhythm is disrupted for reasons inside or outside of our control, it has a devastating impact on the other processes the body performs.

Resetting the Clock

The importance of your circadian rhythm is obvious. Any disruption can lead to a chain reaction of issues down the line. Our circadian rhythm and SCN play a critical role in overall health. 

We know that in a perfect world, we would wind our bodies down as the sun sets, allow our eyes to close as night falls, and open them again as day breaks. 

Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect and reality dictates that our schedules don’t line up with the most natural light and dark cycles. So what do we do?

Circadian Diet

There is a strong chance you have investigated intermittent fasting or heard about it from one of your friends at the gym. The principle is based on the circadian rhythm!

Time-restricted eating, a popular form of intermittent fasting, can lead to a vast improvement in your overall health, benefit you from a fitness performance standpoint, and improve your sleep (a key piece of resetting the circadian rhythm). 

Eating is a major regulator of your circadian rhythm. Our bodies are designed to take nutrition at a specific time. Studies have shown that the gut is best prepared for digestion between 1:00 PM and 8:00 PM. 

Unfortunately, we have interrupted our natural eating patterns with our near constant access to food. This is reinforced by some nutritionists who suggest that eating many small snacks throughout the day is better than a well-rounded meal at the right time of day. However, we now know this to be untrue. 

A study was performed in mice in which some of the mice were restricted to meals in the appropriate window for their natural circadian rhythm. Others were allowed to eat as they saw fit. Guess which mice became obese? The unrestricted grazers. 

Intermittent fasting is a natural way of eating that syncs our gut with our food intake, which supports an appropriate circadian rhythm. 

Circadian Medications & Supplements

Beyond when you eat, there is also a circadian pattern to how our bodies process nutrients depending on the time of day… or day of the season. Did you know that the time you take your meds or supplements may make them have very different effects? For instance, in mice, resveratrol taken during their sleep cycle had a pro-oxidant effect, while taken during their wake cycle had the beneficial antioxidant benefits. 

Studies have also found that aspirin should be taken at night to prevent heart attacks and strokes – not in the morning! 

Even 50 years ago, back in the 1970s, researchers studying cancer treatments in mice made a remarkable discovery. They found that the timing of medication administration significantly affected its efficacy. Mice treated in the evening required much lower doses of chemotherapy drugs compared to those treated in the morning (Semin Cell Dev Biol, Demato et al.). This revelation hinted at the crucial role timing plays in optimizing drug therapies.

Further research, such as a study published in Lancet by Montaigne et al. shed light on the timing of medical procedures. Individuals undergoing heart surgeries in the afternoon experienced fewer complications than those operated on in the morning. The reason? The circadian rhythm of heart cells, which exhibited better resilience to stress during afternoon surgeries.

But it’s not just surgeries affected by circadian rhythms. Medications like statins, commonly used to manage cholesterol levels, are recommended for evening intake. Why? Because the enzyme they target, HMG CoA reductase, peaks during nighttime hours, maximizing the drug’s effectiveness.

Circadian Light

Getting outside into the sun, especially as the weather improves, is an important part of your body’s ability to maintain its rhythm. 

Sunlight is full spectrum (it beams down all the wavelengths.) Our bodies are geared to being outside as the sun goes through its phases. This helps set our bodies’ rhythms by way of the processes stimulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which guides our circadian rhythms and promotes homeostasis.

As the eye perceives light at different angles, it offers exposures to the different wavelengths and their health benefits. This makes it important to be outside at different times of the day.

Unfortunately, most of us are inside for the majority of the day. We can leverage technology like Happy Lamps, which can change the wavelengths of light inside throughout the day. Each wavelength offers unique health benefits while an appropriate amount of each supports the circadian rhythm.

There are times when circadian rhythm disruptions from sleep loss, blue light intrusion, and other issues can cause significant problems in our regulatory systems. This is where you start to see people suffering from illness and disease. 

As daylight savings allows our bodies to experience the important rays of the sun for longer each day, it is worth taking stock in how our circadian rhythm is actually functioning. Feeling sluggish, never getting enough sleep, and the inability to control weight gain or muscle growth should not  be normal.

Circadian Hormones & Peptides

Gaining control of our body’s hormones is vital to recovering from the negative impacts of circadian rhythm disruption. There are many interventions that can help to realign and reset the body’s natural rhythm, such as those offered by experts like those at the Boulder Longevity Institute. 

As an example, the loss of deep sleep can result in Growth Hormone (GH) deficiencies. This leads to stagnant or nonexistent muscle growth, loss of brain function, and an inability to burn fat. Peptides, such as CJC and Ipamorelin, can be introduced to increase GH output.

Cortisol, another hormone, stimulates our body and can be increased by stressors in our lives. An increase in cortisol wrecks sleep, which wrecks our circadian rhythm. Ashwagandha and Relora have the ability to lower high cortisol levels to a place where better sleep is possible. 

The peptide Epitalon encourages melatonin secretion by the pineal gland. This leads to improved sleep, restored circadian rhythm, and a more natural regulation of melatonin.

The Emerging Field of Chronomedicine

The emerging field of Circadian Medicine, also known as Chrono Medicine, considers how we can leverage our bodies’ time-based functions to optimize health. Simple considerations, such as when to consume drugs or medications based on maximal sensitivity in order to enhance benefits or exposure to specific wavelengths of light and specific times, can have marked impact on overall health.

While the potential of Chrono Medicine is exciting, implementing Chrono therapy poses challenges. Hospital protocols often dictate fixed drug administration times, overlooking the individual’s circadian rhythm. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies may lack the incentive to explore optimized drug timing, as it may  mean less quantity is needed (and not align with their financial interests).

Despite these obstacles, the promise of Chrono medicine cannot be ignored. By understanding and harnessing circadian rhythms, we have the opportunity to revolutionize healthcare practices. Tailoring treatments to align with our internal clocks could lead to improved outcomes and better patient care.

As we continue to unravel the mysteries of circadian rhythms, let’s stay curious and open-minded. Who knows what new discoveries lie ahead in this fascinating field? Check out our Human Optimization Academy for more content on Circadian Rhythm and the potential of Chrono Medicine to enhance longevity and well-being.

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Published March 14, 2024

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