Biological Rhythms And Your Sleep
Your body is the result of millions of years of adaptation to the forces of nature. These natural forces are the movement of the planets, sun, moon and the stars. We witness these forces as the cycles of the ages, the seasons, tides, the days and the nights as well as the varied climates and weather patterns around the globe.
In actual fact there is a field of science called chronobiology. This is the field of biology that examines cyclic phenomenon in living organisms and their adaptation to solar and lunar related rhythms. “Chrono” pertains to time and “biology” pertains to the study or science of life. These cycles are known as biological rhythms. The most important biological rhythm is the circadian rhythm, a roughly 24 hour-cycle of the earth around the sun. Many aspects of not only human but all animal behaviour and physiology show circadian rhythmicity, including sleep, physical activity, alertness, hormone levels, body temperature, immune function, and digestive activity.
Some other important cycles are:
Seasonal rhythms, which are annual cycles. Until very recently in history our bodies and lifestyles worked in tandem with the seasons. The lives we lead varied greatly from spring to summer, winter and autumn. Depending on where you were born and lived the activities you did, the hours you worked and the food that you ate varied greatly with seasonal variations
Infradian rhythms, which are cycles longer than a day, such as the female menstrual cycle
Ultradian rhythms, which are cycles shorter than 24 hours, such as the 90-minute REM cycle, the 4hr nasal cycle or the 3hr cycle of growth hormone production
Gene oscillations, some genes are even expressed more during certain hours of the day than during other hours
Modern day life has resulted in a gross departure from these natural rhythms. No longer do our daily lives work in sync with the movement of the sun or seasons. Our natural state is to wake with the sun and wind down as the sun goes down, or as they say, “Make hay while the sun shines”. To step outside of the normal sleep-wake cycle means forcing your body to do something it wasn’t designed to do. This is one of the most common forms of chronic stress today which until the invention of electricity and artificial lighting in the mid 1800’s didn’t exist. Think about that for a minute, for millions of years our biological systems worked in harmony with the rise and fall of the sun and in the relative blink of an eye it has all gone out the window.
If you are out of sync with a normal circadian rhythm for long enough there are guaranteed biological consequences for you both in the short term and long term. To be out of step with this normal cycle wreaks havoc with your mental, emotional, biochemical, visceral and musculoskeletal systems leading to health complaints such as chronic fatigue, low energy levels, irritability, recurrent injury, inflammation, depressed immune function (recurrent colds and flu’s), digestive disturbances, poor balance, anxiety and depression to name but a few. If you are suffering from any sort of health complaint there is nothing more important than re-establishing this normal rhythm in your life.
Here are some tips:
- Be in bed no later than 10:30pm.
- Try to wake with the sun (roughly at 6am every day).
- Be sure to integrate activities and pass times that allow you to naturally wind down as the day progresses from afternoon to night. On that note vigorous exercise is best performed in the morning not after a hard day’s work when your natural biological state is to wind down.
- Avoid all stimulants such as caffeine and sugar after 12pm.
- Have your breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular times each day.
- Stop for all meals and try to focus on your food. Do not eat on the run and try to perform other things like work whilst eating.
- Try going organic and eating with the seasons
- At night 30min before going to bed dim or turn off any bright lights as well as the TV. Bright lights confuse the part of the brain that registers the difference between day and night and allow you to settle into a good night sleep. Try lighting some candles, listening to some relaxing music or having a bath.
- Try some gentle stretching before getting into bed. Many cases of night time discomfort are due to stiff joints and over tight muscles.
Yours in Good Health
Andrew Richards & Jaclyn Cave