Have you ever wondered why you tend to wake up at the
same time without an alarm clock, fall asleep about the same time, or get
hungry about the same hour each day?
The answer is due to your circadian rhythm or biological
clock found deep in the brain’s hypothalamus. Our amazing clocks are highly
intertwined with physiological and behavioral processes. They routinely manage
our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle with brain wave activity, hormone production, and
But our internal clocks don’t adjust well to new
Biological clocks have a profound effect on when we go
to sleep, eat and wake, but also on mental and physical health.
The inner workings of our clocks are high-tech machines.
One good example is the daily night-time routine. As night falls the clock is
in high operational mode as it begins to slow the body for sleep, lowering body
temperature, and releasing the hormone melatonin that makes us feel sleepy.
The clock is ‘programmed’
to react to light and darkness and the daily departure of the sun – essential
for our bodies to function throughout a busy day.
Creatures of habit
Our internal clocks keep us on track. Without the
intricate balance, we’d have jet lag more often than not. Sluggishness,
insomnia, lost appetite, and an awful feeling of being “out of it,” are natural
consequences of jet lag, a frequent discomfort of travelers. When you travel
across time zones and it’s 10 pm back home, your internal clock will have you
wanting to go to bed no matter what the local time is, even if it’s noon
Even though our clocks do not adapt well to
interruptions in daily routines, did you know our circadian rhythm can be
reset, making good sleep possible?
There are many situations when our clocks may be out of
sync with daily life. If you go to bed much later than usual, take a different
job that requires you to work at night, or act as a personal caregiver to a
friend which results in interrupted patterns of sleep, you’ll probably have
problems adjusting your circadian rhythm.
The Latin phrase, “about one day” or circadian best
describes the human sleep cycle. Disrupting this cycle can be harmful down the
road. Poor quality sleep can affect your immune system. Many sleep studies have
discovered that your rest is directly linked to your well-being and daily
People who have chronic sleep problems have a weaker
defense system against pathogens that cause illness, such as the common cold.
To make matters worse, it is known that poor sleep can
lead to overeating. While it is not exactly understood, the body uses rest to
‘recharge’ the body. Hormones such as leptin, which control appetite, may be
affected by poor quality sleep.
A recent study at the University of Chicago found a
correlation between disrupted sleep cycles and increased appetite, especially
cravings for rich foods.
Clock reset tips
What can you do if you are one of millions who work late
at night or sometimes disrupt your circadian rhythm?
Good news! We can trick our clocks if need be to
maintain a 24-hour cycle while still getting the rest we need, even if the sun
Track lifestyle patterns:
caffeine and alcohol intake before bedtime.
• Work on
reducing stress. We all have stress, but it is the single major factor to poor
sleep and long-term health problems.
structured ways to relax. Yoga is a good example.
• Eat a
healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
• When are
you exercising? If you’re exercising too close to bedtime, you might be
confusing your internal clock with this nightly activity.
• What is
the room like where you sleep? If you need to sleep in the daytime, it is very
important to shut out light to trigger light/dark cycles. Adjust your room’s
environment if your room is too hot or loud. Studies have shown that very dark
(pitch black), cool rooms are the most ‘sleepable.’ If you live near traffic,
invest in ear plugs.
• Upgrade your mattress for a more comfortable, good
Mark Underwood is
a neuroscience researcher, president and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a
biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin focused on the discovery,
development, and commercialization of novel technologies to support cognitive
function and other age-related health challenges such as memory. He has been
taped as an expert in the field of neuroscience for The Wall Street Journal
Morning Radio, CBS and CNN Radio among others. Mark is also a contributor to
the “Brain Health Guide” which highlights the research at Quincy Bioscience and
offers practical tips to help keep healthy brain function in aging. More
information can be found at www.quincybioscience.com.
Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.