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Life is nothing if not a series of continuous and interdependent cycles. These cycles are expressed in the natural changes of the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, the ebb and flow of the tide, and the ecosystem’s continual rhythms.
The human body incorporates cycles, too. We all experience the sleep-wake cycle and the cycles of eating, working and even paying bills. For women, there is the monthly menstrual cycle.
Our daily routines derive from scheduled cycles based, primarily, on what is called the circadian rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is an internal time clock or pattern that influences processes in the body and mind. These biological and behavioral developments are set in 24-hour cycles.
Along with the sleep-wake cycle, your body’s circadian rhythm causes changes in blood pressure, basal body temperature and hormonal release.
The position of the sun (daylight and darkness) greatly influences these rhythms. In fact, the word “circadian” comes from a Latin word meaning “around the day.”
Many assume that the sleep-wake cycle controls the circadian rhythm. But that is exactly backward. Your circadian rhythm dictates your sleep-wake cycle. This means that to live in sync with nature, and to give yourself optimal health, you must allow your sleep-and-wake cycle to fall within the normal cycle of your internal circadian rhythms.
When all is well, your sleep, wake and meal cycles run in sync with the external cues of morning and night, sunlight and darkness. When your daily schedule is out of sync with the cycles of your immediate environment, the body falls out of balance. Research suggests that this kind of dysregulated rhythm can lead to inflammation and disease.
Scientists at Texas A&M University recently investigated the negative effects of “body clock dysregulation.” Their conclusion, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, states: “Recent scientific observations suggest that disruption of circadian clock regulation plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes.”
The scientists found that animals who were obese from eating a high-fat diet experienced health problems that were made worse because the circadian clocks in their immune cells were dysregulated.
In a press release published on PLOS ONE, Robin Voight warns: “The current study demonstrates that circadian disorganization can impact the intestinal microbiota which may have implications for inflammatory diseases.”
When your circadian rhythms are out of sync, your risk for serious diseases climbs. Systemic inflammation can start and eventually lead to chronic pain and chronic use of toxic drugs to try to ease the discomfort. Added to that, inflammation can make you vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The most common disruptors of circadian rhythms include shift work, long airplane trips into different time zones, burning the midnight oil studying, staying up late watching television, being on the computer till the wee hours of the morning, too much late-night partying and eating late snacks. Forcing yourself, because of work or social pressure, to stay alert at night in an altered, unnatural time frame goes against your natural circadian rhythm, which is set to parallel the rising and setting of the sun.
To synchronize your health with your circadian rhythms, you have to recognize which things in your life you can control. For example, you can control when you eat and sleep. But you can’t do much about the shift you have to work or what time your flight lands in Denver. You have to be especially vigilant to properly time your daily routines. An occasional alteration in sleeping or eating may not affect your health. But repetitive dysregulation will.
So you should make healthy choices for eating well and staying on a set schedule. Establish a consistent time to go to sleep and wake up. Don’t stay up late watching TV, reading, working on your computer, studying or eating.
You should also take a daily prebiotic and probiotic to help regulate your intestinal microbiota. This helps limit the inflammatory effects of circadian dysregulation and decreases systemic inflammation.
If you have sluggish digestion, suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia, have trouble staying awake during normal hours, or have an inflammation-based disease, think about keeping a more consistent daily schedule. Your health problems are probably rooted in a circadian clock that is out of sync with the day/night cycle.
Remember to stay consistent with your daily clock. You alone can make the changes to improve your health by resetting it.
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