Your Body’s Clock Can Help You Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Ever wonder why you feel out of whack some days? Maybe you lack an appetite for some reason, or feel like you’re just too tired to get out of bed in the morning. Or perhaps you feel slightly overheated or chilled during part of the day. And what about jet lag? It may be that your circadian rhythm is off.
Circadian rhythm is the natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavior changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour cycle. It is mostly affected by light and darkness and controlled by a small area in the middle of the brain known as the “master clock.” Circadian rhythm can affect sleep, body temperature, hormones, appetite, and other body functions. An abnormal circadian rhythm may be linked to obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Circadian Rhythm and Sleep
The sleep-to-wake cycle is one of the clearest examples of the importance of circadian rhythm. During the day, light exposure causes this clock in our brain to send signals that generate alertness and help keep us awake and active. As night falls, the master clock initiates the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, and then keeps transmitting signals that help us stay asleep through the night. Our circadian rhythm aligns our sleep and wakefulness with day and night to create a stable cycle of rest that revitalizes us and supports increased daytime activity.
Influences on Other Body Systems
Scientific evidence has also connected circadian rhythm to metabolism and weight through the regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol. It can also influence mental health, including increasing the risk of illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder as well as the potential for diseases like dementia. There are indications that circadian rhythm has an important influence on the immune system as well as processes of DNA repair that are involved in preventing cancer.
Jet Lag Explained
Have you ever flown through multiple time zones and experienced jet lag? That’s your circadian rhythm telling you something is off. While you can adjust your watch, your body clock will try to function on the time it is at your home. The more time zones you pass through, the more off you may feel. Your body clock will reset to the new time you’re in, but it can take a few days.
Maintaining a Healthy Circadian Rhythm
While things like diet, exercise and managing stress are important, your sleep habits are probably the biggest way you can maintain a healthy circadian rhythm including:
- Avoiding stimulants such as coffee in the hours before bed
- Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
- Turning off lights and screens in the half-hour before bedtime
- Keeping your bedroom at a comfortable temperature
- Having a bedtime routine that relaxes you and prepares you for sleeping
- Avoiding exercise and food in the hours just before bed.
Sources: National Institute of General Medical Sciences; sleepfoundation.org; chronobiology.com.
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