Maintaining a Balanced Circadian Rhythm and Your Health
Have you ever wondered why you feel sleepy after a certain time in the evening? Or why you can’t sleep past a certain time every morning? Or why does your stomach demand food at certain hours of the day?
The explanation of these biological phenomenon is circadian rhythm – or internal biological clocks.
All living beings where animals or humans have an internal biological clock that helps them to synchronize their internal biological functions with the external environment.
What should you know about circadian rhythm?
Circadian rhythm is maintained by a special part of brain – also known as suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This part of brain receives information from the external environment via special sensory organs/ tissues (such as eyes, ears, nose, etc.) Once stimulated, our brain processes this information and synchronize it with our internal biological processes to maintain health and wellness. For example, when sun goes down and bright sunlight turns into dwindling evening, brain releases a special hormone – melatonin that helps in inducing sleep. Besides promoting and maintaining healthy sleep, this hormone also kicks start a number of other mechanisms such as cell repair, tissue remodeling etc.
Maintaining a balanced circadian rhythm promotes optimal wellness and prepare our body for upcoming challenges.
Why is it challenging to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm?
Due to advancement in technology and our lifestyle choices, it has become extremely challenging to maintain a balanced circadian rhythm; for example:
A lot of people work different types of jobs that involve different timings and schedules – sometimes people travel in different time-zones and experience jet-lag. Likewise, we can now change our environmental temperature as well as light; for example, a lot of use are exposed to excessive light in the evening hours via gadgets, tv or lamps at home. All these factors can alter the natural circadian rhythm in our brain and can lead to a variety of complications.
Drawbacks of poorly regulated circadian rhythm:
Poorly managed circadian rhythm can lead to a variety of complications; for example, with altered sleep rhythm, individuals feel exhausted and tired all the time. But more importantly, this alters the natural hormonal balance too. Here is what happens:
- Melatonin release is altered which besides altering you sleep cycle, can also affect the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters that are responsible for cell cycle regulation and tissue repair
- Low sleep aggravates the release of stress hormones especially cortisol
- Altered circadian rhythm and poor sleep also interferes with the release of Growth Hormone as well as key male hormone Testosterone, both of which are released during deep stages of sleep
Long term complications of poorly regulated circadian rhythm:
In chronic cases, above mentioned imbalances can lead to more serious health issues such as:
- Long term low levels of melatonin increase the risk of developing certain cancers (due to impaired cell repair and tissue remodeling)
- Long standing high serum cortisol levels compounded with poor sleep leads to cardiovascular ailments due to accelerated atherosclerosis
- Hormone irregularities also impact serum cholesterol levels
- High cortisol and low testosterone leads to sexual dysfunction in males
- Women often develop infertility
- The risk of developing obesity and insulin-resistant diabetes also increases
Maintain healthy lifestyle choices to maintain optimal circadian rhythm. This includes, maintaining sleep hygiene, setting up a time for sleeping at night and waking up in morning, limiting caffeine intake after 6pm, and getting plenty of workout and exercise.