Did you know the world follows natural cycles or rhythms? Our planet revolves around the sun for 365 days and, from our distance and inclination in relation to it, the four seasons of the year appear. After a year, everything happens again. So are the days: there is a regular cycle in which the Moon gives way to the Sun and days turn into nights.
Somehow, we are also equal to periods of the day, seasons of the year, and lunar rhythms. And we are also connected to the natural cycles of light, temperature, winds and tides. This period of approximately 24 hours in which the biological rhythm of all living beings, including us, is based, is called the circadian rhythm.
What is the circadian cycle?
It is responsible for regulating the psychological, physiological and energetic rhythms of the human body, and is located in the hypothalamus. Its vital functions influence digestion, sleep, cell renewal and control of body temperature. That’s why it’s very important that you be aware of how the circadian rhythm affects your life.
The circadian rhythm is the way in which our organism adapts to the duration of the light period (day) and the dark period (night), in order to synchronize physiological functions with the duration of a day (approximately 24 hours).
The importance of regulating our circadian rhythms is in the mode the body depends on light and temperature variations to create a “biological clock”. The purpose of the human body is to create conditions for these activities to occur normally.
In this way, during the day and night, psychological and physiological processes take place that privilege the activities that our biology “programmed” for these times.
Vital functions influence digestion, sleep, cell renewal and control of body temperature. That’s why it’s very important that you be aware of how the circadian rhythm affects your life.
Modern circadian medicine according to ancient wisdom
This subject is still relatively recent in modern science, but the ancient Indian medicine called “Ayurveda” (in Sanskrit: the science of life), has been talking about it for thousands of years and today science already corroborates with clinical findings.
What factors influence your biological clock?
There are some bodily functions and certain habits that have a great influence on this rhythm, such as: luminosity, nutrition, physical exercise, psychological condition and sleep.
The so-called light/dark cycle is the main component of the human biological clock. In other words, the intensity of the luminosity perceived makes all the difference for certain functions to occur.
Scientists claim that light is the main activator of the biological clock, and our body is prepared for wakefulness during the day and rest at night. Thus, people who stay awake and exposed to light at night, somehow force the body to change its natural cycle, driven by circadian cycles, and most of the time they are unable to change these habits. These changes that affect biological cycles cause a desynchronization between the internal clock and external temporal indicators, requiring time for the person to readjust to environmental conditions.
Habits can also influence the functioning of this cycle — among the main ones is food. The reason is simple: eating when the body is not ready creates a chain reaction about various functions.
Just think of someone who eats something very heavy at night. During this period, the body is already at a slow pace, because of the lack of light. This means less rapid
digestion, which can cause heartburn and nausea, for example. On the other hand, eating when it’s still daylight helps maintain optimal energy levels.
Thus, once the cycle is readjusted, it´s advisable to keep regular breakfast and dinner times to keep circadian rhythms consistent.
3. Physical exercises
How you use your body is another factor that can change your body’s pace. When exercising early in the day, the tendency is to shorten your circadian cycle. If you decide to do them at night, when your cells would like to rest, you will increase the pace.
This activity also interferes with the production of neurotransmitters and the release of hormones, such as endorphins. These components are responsible for the feeling of well-being and relaxation, so they affect certain physical conditions. Furthermore, they impact metabolism by speeding it up and increasing energy expenditure, which changes the way their structures behave.
4. Psychological condition
It’s not just the physical part that has an effect on the biological clock. The psychological aspect is also essential as it has to do with the chemistry of the brain and the reactions it sends to each part.
People who go through a high level of stress usually have a high amount of cortisone in their bodies. This changes how the body reacts and how it behaves over the hours. Anxiety and depression are other factors that change the length of the cycle, which can become unregulated.
Research shows that a fickle sleep routine disrupts the circadian rhythm and impairs sleep quality. In line with this, therefore, it makes sense to go to sleep at approximately the same time each night. Regular scheduling can help improve sleep quality and reduce sleep latency – the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
Those who sleep late and wake up late, for example, according to the logic of the circadian rhythm, are not in sync with the body’s natural cycle. Those who wake up early, on the other hand, manage to stay within what the body considers “normal”.
The influence of artificial lights
Lighting plays a very important role in the functioning of our biological clock. There are special cells in our retina that are responsible for sensing varying ambient lighting and carrying that information to a part of the brain that organizes our internal clocks. It so happens that with the increasingly constant presence of artificial light in our routine, it can often reach the point of being compared or even confused with natural light. And this is due to the frequency of capturing the so-called cold light that our eyes capture.
As an example we have the white led light which is comparable to midday light.
That way, if you’re ready to sleep and turn on an LED light or even use a mobile, your brain can understand that it’s not time to sleep, but to wake up, due to the spectral quality of that light, and consequently, it can cause insomnia or other disorders.
However, we cannot discredit the great transformation that artificial light has brought in our lives, especially with regard to technology. So, it’s important to keep your balance and use it at times that aren’t too harmful.
In some countries located at the ends of the globe, especially in the northern hemisphere, it´s common that in summer, the night practically doesn´t exist (an event known as the Midnight Sun), and during the winter, the presence of the daylight cannot be perceived (an event known as Polar Night), as is the case of Norway for example. This directly affects people’s lives, as the absence of sunlight for a few months makes them more tired, discouraged, and may even develop diseases such as seasonal depression. And that’s where artificial lighting appears as a solution to improve the quality of life of these people. In these specific cases, the constant use of artificial lighting for the use of therapies is very common. Light baths (with a high incidence of blue light) when waking up, for example, that tells the body when to wake up.
Easy tips to maintain a balanced circadian rhythm
- Try to keep a regular sleep schedule;
- Take a walk in the morning. The sunlight provides an energy boost and resets your circadian cycle;
- Limit the usage of bright lights and gadgets in the night because they can confuse the brain and upset the cycle.
Knowledge in this area, as well as its importance for health, resulted in the Nobel Prize in Medicine for three Americans in 2017 (Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young). So, all these ideas may seem a little strange to some people, but believe me: respecting our biological rhythm and keeping the body in sync with the environment we live in is essential for a healthier life.
If you are interested in this article and want to understand a little more about the subject, check out the book “Change your Schedule Change your Life” by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, a reference in Ayurvedic medicine. The book explains in a very didactic way, through Ayurveda and chronobiology, this whole process and how our modern life has moved us away from something so simple and natural, which are the cycles of nature such as day and night and how this influences our body.