Restore Your Body and Brain’s Natural Clock
What are circadian rhythms? Our bodies are designed around a circadian clock. There is a time, controlled largely by genetics and hormones, that our bodies are designed to do things at their best. This daily rhythmic activity cycle, based on 24-hour intervals, is exhibited by most organisms which helps regulate sleep, feeding, hormones, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Every cell operates on some form of a circadian rhythm. The circadian clock, if you will, dictates the optimal time for every function we perform. So when the circadian clock is disrupted, we believe that this can be linked to almost every disease state, from cancer to obesity, to heart disease. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to disrupt our circadian rhythms.
We typically think of the circadian clock in terms of sleep, but there are many factors in circadian rhythm disruptions, ranging from mutations in our circadian genes to environmental factors.
The biggest regulator of circadian rhythm is the sun, and as our eyes get exposed to sunlight, they are relaying info to our hypothalamus (the regulator of the brain that tells our body to do things and whose main function is to maintain the homeostasis of the body) to regulate our circadian rhythm through pathways that include melatonin, serotonin and body temperature.
If we aren’t exposed to sunlight first thing in the morning, then our circadian clock is disrupted right away. It’s really important to be exposed as early as possible to daylight and sunlight and then throughout the day to sunlight. Upon waking, it is ideal to get outside and expose your eyes to sunlight to help reset your circadian clock.
Regulating the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN)
When sunlight comes through our eyes, it goes to the master clock called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. 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.
Importance Beyond Sleep
Each of our organ systems has its own circadian clock, so that master clock tells these different organ systems when to be more active. For example, there are times when our digestive system, adrenal glands, and liver are processing best. This is why it’s key that we start with the sunlight getting into our brain so that it can let all these organ systems function on the right schedule. 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.
Obstacles Disrupting Natural Circadian Rhythms
We face many obstacles in our day-to-day that mess up our natural circadian rhythms. Genetics and the environment both play significant roles.
We’re exposed to computers and screens late at night, which emit blue light that stimulates our brains. In this day and age, we’re not set up to go to bed when the sun goes down and to wake up when the sun comes up. For most of us, our workplaces are not conducive to allow us to be outside all day long in the sun, exposed to bright sunlight that regulates our cortisol levels appropriately with alertness and calm.
It’s important to also note that our circadian rhythms do change with age, as well as are impacted by our genetics. 23andMe genetic testing found that there were 15 different places on our DNA that were significantly associated with people being a morning person versus a night person. Seven of those genes were established to have a connection to circadian rhythm.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to change our environment and encourage our bodies to reset towards our natural circadian rhythms.
Changing our environment can help affect our sleep in a positive way. There are devices like the sunrise wake-up alarm clock that has gradual light that wakes us up just like the sun’s coming up. With this gradual light wake-up, it’s been shown that people wake up happier, that their cortisol levels are better, and that their melatonin levels are better. During the day you can use a light therapy lamp, also called a Happy Lamp. A 10,000 Lux lamp at a desk has been shown to keep melatonin stores low, cortisol to a nice steady level, and also improve mood and energy.
Block Blue Light
During the day, we’re in front of our bright computers which stimulate the brain and decrease melatonin production. Wearing blue light-blocking glasses starting around dusk when the sun starts to go down, or ideally, foregoing your evening TV, computer, or cell phone exposure will help cue the brain that it is dusk and it should start its nightly hormone patterns.
Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
In addition to the tips above, you can also follow some simple steps to help reset your circadian rhythm. One of the best things you can do is to get moving in the morning. If you can get up, wake up, and get outside for a few minutes, it will make a huge difference in restoring your circadian rhythm and your overall health. By working on restoring and resetting your circadian rhythm, you can help decrease your likelihood of suffering from disease during your lifetime.