It may feel as though we’re making a physical choice to close our eyes at night, but we have a lot less choice in the matter than we may think.
The circadian rhythm schedule is the ruler of our inner timings and a little setback here and there can cause quite a bit of trouble for you and your body.
If you’re sat there scratching your head, fear not. Here is an introduction to the circadian rhythm:
What is the Circadian Rhythm?
In short, the circadian rhythm is what tells our body what time it is.
Circadian cycles last for approximately 24 hours at a time and influence our physical, mental and behavioural changes.
If you’ve ever experienced that groggy feeling after travelling or even after the clocks have moved backwards/forwards, then it’s all because of this odd little rhythm that’s pumping away as we speak.
While that grogginess can be a right pain in the behind, it generally goes away after a day or two. However, upsets in circadian rhythm have been linked to much more dire consequences. Research by the National Institute of Health has found that the ever-pumping circadian rhythm also influences hormone production, hunger, cell regeneration and even body temperature.
How Does the Circadian Rhythm Work?
The circadian rhythm is stimulated by groups of molecules interacting throughout the body.
Side note: Here’s the sciency bit…
The ‘clock’ itself is located within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (or SCN for short) and is driven by our self-produced genes and proteins.
The SCN is located right above the optic nerve (the bit of the brain that tells our eyes what’s going on) and is incredibly light sensitive. Because of this, the circadian rhythm is heavily linked with natural lighting. If there’s less light, more melatonin (otherwise known as your bodies sleep hormone) will be released.
When this fragile balance is tipped slightly toward one direction or the other, it can lead to a whole heap of issues including sleep disruption and in increased hunger.
How Can it be Disrupted and What Effect Does it Have?
While I do love my sleep, human anatomy can sometimes be somewhat of a question mark for me.
Since we’re discussing a whole heap of biology today, I decided to get in touch with PhD student and circadian biologist Robyn Womack to guide us through.
1. What’s the most common way the circadian rhythm can be disrupted?
“Circadian rhythms can be disrupted by interfering with your regular sleep schedule, from travelling across multiple time-zones to working night shifts.
Even staying up later than you would normally go to sleep (known as social jetlag) can cause a degree of chaos.
Disruption happens when rhythms within the body clock become out of sync with natural cycles of light and dark in the environment.”
2. What can be done to rectify the disruption?
“The best way to restore your rhythm is to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
Alongside this, try to be exposed to as much natural light as you can so your body clock rhythms can synchronise again.
Going camping is a great way to do this, or even just taking walks outside during the day!”
3. How can an offset circadian rhythm have an effect on your long term health?
“Because a lot of our biology is controlled by our circadian rhythm, disruption to normal rhythms can cause problems with health.
Circadian disruption has so far been linked with mood disorders (e.g. depression), metabolic disorders, and also sleep problems such as insomnia and fatigue.”
How to Recover from a Long Standing Sleep Disorder
Sleep disorders such as those mentioned in today’s blog can have a long term detrimental impact on a person’s health.
As Robyn pointed out, re-programming your mind to react to a consistent bed time or allowing it to recognise natural lighting in connection with bed times is a great way to get started and help you find your circadian rhythm and develop a schedule.
However, if you’re worried your issues may stem from your environment, you may want to take a closer look at what you’re sleeping on.
Ask yourself, when was the last time I checked my mattress or bed frame? If you can’t quite remember, then it may be time to start researching your options.