If I was to say that opening your eyes in the morning has the biggest affect on your health. Over everything else! You would probably think I had slightly lost the plot. However, there are buckets full of scientific research and evidence about the Circadian rhythm that says otherwise. This article explores why this Circadian rhythm is central to health, the importance of a Daily or Morning routine, Rest and Recuperation and having a Positive Attitude.
We examine how, where and when you open your eyes can be so important to a healthy lifestyle. How it affects not only your biological rhythms and routines, but all your metabolic processes too. Particularly poignant, when at the end of February this year, we have an extra day put in the calendar which upsets the routine of the annual calendar. More on this later, first though all things Circadian.
The Circadian Rhythm or Clock
You may have heard all about this but if not, it has nothing to do with Big Bands or Jazz music:)
A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours For more information. It can refer to any biological process that displays the relevant criteria for 24 hour oscillation or repeat cycles. These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian rhythm or clock that is synchronised by solar cycles. Circadian rhythms have been widely observed in plants, animals, funghi and bacteria, all the way down to cell level.
What are the Circadian rhythm criteria?
- The Circadian rhythm has an endogenous free-running period that lasts approximately 24 hours. Which means that it comes from within an organism, tissue or cell. As a result, the Circadian rhythm persists in constant conditions (e.g. constant darkness) with a period of about 24 hours. A Circadian rhythm cannot be said to be endogenous unless it has been tested. Plus it persists in conditions without external periodic input e.g light.
- The Circadian rhythms are “entrainable”. This means that the Circadian rhythm can be reset by exposure to external stimuli (such as light and heat), a process called entrainment. Travel across time zones illustrates the ability of the human biological clock to adjust to the local time. A person will usually experience jet lag before “entrainment” of their circadian clock has brought it into sync with local time.
- The rhythms exhibit temperature compensation. In other words, they are not affected over a range of physiological temperatures. Humans live at a broad range of temperatures, and differences in thermal energy will affect the rates of change in chemical or molecular processes in their cell(s). In order to keep track of time, our circadian clock must maintain roughly a 24-hour cycle despite these changes.
Why is the Circadian clock so important?
On the face of it, I am not exactly telling you anything that you don’t know already. Namely. that we operate on 24-hour cycles. Funny that, given we wake up every morning roughly 24 hours after we last woke up. But perhaps what you didn’t know is that the circadian clock is just as important for regulating internal metabolic processes as it is for coordinating with the environment.
Metabolism is the set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in the human body . The three main purposes of metabolism are:
- the conversion of food to energy to run cellular processes;
- the conversion of food/fuel to building blocks of macro nutrients; and
- the elimination of waste or excrement from the body.
These reactions allow the human body to grow and reproduce, maintain its structures, and respond to our environments. The word metabolism can also refer to all of these chemical reactions in aggregate, including digestion. Plus the transport of substances including nutrients into and between different cells. In which case the above described set of reactions within the cells is called intermediary metabolism or intermediate metabolism.
Is this making sense?
It starts to get a bit complicated but can be explained by simply using what is literally in front of our eyes.
Through the retina in the eye signals are transmitted to the brain. This is the mirror at the back of the eye that captures all the images coming through the front of the eye. Based on the light arriving via the retina, the brain signals to other cells or glands in the body. Letting them know which part of the cycle you are on. So processes or substances can be released and the rest of the body can synchronise exactly with the circadian rhythm. For example. opening your eyes in the morning or based on the amount of time elapsed after waking up.
For example, the endocrine glands in the brain are triggered at different times of the day to release hormones via different organs such as the pituitary or pineal glands, the pancreas, thyroid or adrenal glands. Release of these hormones across the body at the appropriate time, will be caught by receptors in different organs. These synchronise the body or circadian clock at the right time for release of energy, sleep, waking, temperature, thirst and appetite. Proof of adaptive significance was found in this study HERE
So if opening your eyes kicks off this chain reaction, let’s look at what might adversely affect the reactions throughout the body. Particularly, how does human health get affected by how, when and where you kick-start this clock.
The Effect of the Circadian Clock on Human Health
There is a huge array of different human activities that affect the workings of the circadian clock. Some have much worse affects than others but you should be aware of how damaging these activities can be to our healthy lifestyle For more information:
Eating late or during the night
- What actually happens when we go to sleep at night. Provided that we are not carrying out functions that would normally be expected to be carried out during the day, we should be able to sleep well. The body should go into recovery mode so that all the “repairs” that we need to carry out can be carried out. If however, we eat late or during the night due to shift work or other reasons (see below) then that repair work cannot be done because the body is still functioning as if in the day time. The synchronisation between cells works in the opposite way so we continue digesting food rather than carrying out repairs at a cellular level.
Obesity and diabetes
- This becomes evident if your eating habits are continually affect by shift work or insomnia or drug abuse. The change to the circadian clock and resulting affect on metabolic disorders caused by being forced to eat during rest periods, will result in increased body mass. Insulin sensitivity is a further risk to health and can cause diabetes. Additional health concerns arising due to messing about with the circadian clock are cardio metabolic syndrome, hypertension and inflammation.
Pilots and cabin crew
- moving across different time zones and working through the night can cause fatigue and jet lag although techniques are used to counter the affects. Many studies have been done which reflect how accidents can be caused when in this affected state.
- Whether through recreational or prescription drugs, there is a major bi-directional relationship at work with the circadian system. A vicious circle can build up whereby drug abuse has an adverse affect on sleeping patterns. Vice-versa can also be the case where constant changes in the circadian rhythm can cause a sensitivity to addiction and substance abuse For more information.
The importance of Daily/Morning Routine
The physiological and psychological benefits of having a daily or morning routine cannot be over estimated. Set out below are some of the things that you may want to include in your routine and why For more information:
You have heard all about the importance of the circadian rhythm so getting to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day is key to making sure that this internal body clock is kept consistent. For more information
Again eating at the same time each day is also important but the assistance of intermittent fasting cannot be over estimated either. By this, I mean not eating as soon as you get up but to allow your body to continue to repair and rehabilitate itself by not kicking off the day time cellular markers as soon as you get up. Making sure you leave at least 12 to 16 hours between your evening meal and breakfast is a very good way of doing this.
Movement or exercise
This doesn’t need to be a 10 mile run or anything too strenuous. Some simple stretching, a walk, yoga or Pilates is sufficient. This tells our internal body clock that we are literally warming up for the day’s activities. It also allows us to focus on one thing so that our minds do not wander, jumping between potential activities during the day. Keeping stress levels to a minimum. Of course, the movement or exercise is also having a beneficial physiological affect too
Meditation or Mindfulness
This will focus the mind even further on the particular meditative or mindful exercise in hand. This is a fantastic way to deal with everyday or unusual stresses and anxieties.
Even depression can be alleviated but, of course, please consult a specialist professional too if you are feeling depressed.
If meditation or mindfulness is fitted into your daily or morning routine then the benefits you will see over a short amount of time will be fantastic. Yoga has a similar affect but the time commitment needed for the same results is much greater. Yoga though combines physiological and psychological benefits in one exercise so if you have the time everyday it is a great choice.
Getting Great Nutrition
There are so many fad diets out there that you can easily become confused as to what is the best for you. We are very clear, fad diets are not such a great idea unless you have a short term goal to accomplish and are focused on that goal.
Generally, diversity in what you eat is best so eating vegetables across the colour of the rainbow is a great idea. However, you might not fancy vegetables for breakfast although they are great in smoothies at whatever the time of day!
What you need to think about is whether your food intake at any time is actually nutritious. Much of the food we eat today isn’t nutritious because it is processed or full of sugar or high in carbohydrate and nothing much else For more information.
Snacking Doesn’t Help!
Eating bad food puts you into a nutrition deficit so you feel hungry quicker, usually in between meals. So you snack on something high in sugar and you get into a vicious circle. So start the day off with something highly nutritious and filling but without processed sugar (add fruits or dates for sweetness) or too many low quality carbohydrates. Add high quality superfoods and superfood supplements to your breakfast too every day. You will then last much better without poor quality snacks until your next meal.
Map Out Your Day
No matter where you are, when you have completed your daily routine, you will feel grounded, less stressed and more focused and creative. This would be a great time to map out your day. Set yourself 3-5 important goals and 3-5 less important ones that you need to do both personally and at work. If you are doing this at the start of the week do the same for your weekly goals too. You don’t need to become obsessive over them and you don’t even have to write them down since mental agility in remembering what is important is a great skill to acquire. Check back in at the end of the day. What have you missed out on and what you have done well. If you feel better checking off these on a list then go for it…tick!
….And Be Grateful every single day
Acknowledging that we live in a pretty good place with good friends and a close family is very powerful. I get up every morning and tell myself in the mirror that I am lucky to be who I am. To have the family that I have got. That my friends are great. This brings a huge amount of positivity with it. By finding 3 things that you are grateful for throughout the day also helps with this positive attitude. Say them out loud to yourself or to your partner.
Of course, there may be times when you don’t actually feel like doing this. When you are not feeling great there are other things that can be useful but more about this shortly.
Rest and Recuperation
Rest and particularly sleep is not optional. Everyone needs between 7-9 hours daily except some odd exceptions that thrive best on much less.
However, if you think that you are one of these people I would strongly recommend that you make sure that you have all the above tips in place as part of your daily routine. This way you will be able to ensure that the lack of sleep isn’t a disorder that is doing you no good in the long run.
Remember that you may well have upset your circadian rhythm to such a degree that it needs resetting. So ensure that you are following other healthy physiological and psychological habits. It will mean that you are doing your best to counter balance and potentially over turn the disruption to your body clock.
Fool the Circadian clock
What else? Well there are ways to fool or assist your circadian clock at either end of the day. Some top tips are as follows:
- make sure that you do not access electronic devices 1-2 hours before bedtime. Otherwise the blue light emitted from the screen will make your body think it is the middle of the day and disrupt your body clock.
- the opposite is true if you are forced to get up really early every day. News readers use this trick. Get a blue light in the bedroom and put this on when you wake up and your body and mind will automatically be alert and think you should have been up for hours.
- conversely, at night time as well as not accessing devices before bedtime, put on low level lighting that has no blue light in it. When I am in India living in beach huts over Christmas or at New Year, you get one maybe two light bulbs at best in the hut. Outside, there is very little light either in the villages or on the beach. So every where you go with either a torch or a phone torch. This gives your body full warning that that you are about to sleep. S o your mind and body is preparing during this period. As a result you get a great night’s sleep. Full of the repairs and reparations needed to maximise your well-being.
- if you can then time your bedtime so that you get up with the light even better. Not easy to do in the winter in the UK but during spring or summer it is possible. Try and get up at sunrise and go to bed at sunset. So your body clock is working in sync perfectly with the solar cycle.
Are you a “glass half full” or “half-empty” kinda person? Do you see the positive side to everything and everyone? Or is life just full of obstacles or things that go wrong.
Because if you do have a negative streak running through you, and most of us do, then try to turn that around. It will be highly beneficial to all your outcomes. Also how people react to you. Making your life and health benefit in so many different ways.
One of the ways that you change this, is to take full responsibility for everything in your life, good or bad. Now bad stuff may happen from time to time that is completely outside your control. Even if this is the case then try to look for some positive aspect in those events. If it is something that you can change for the good, then take responsibility to try and make that change.
Only by taking full responsibility for the event can you find a way to change it or look for the positive. A bad situation also may look a whole lot different if you are able to follow the daily routine outlined above. Releasing tension, focusing on the present rather than double-guessing what the future holds. If you are able to operate in the present and not listen to the voice inside your head, you are half-way there. See the positive side to everything, it will help you to enjoy life and thrive!
Finally, did we mention Leap Year?
Leap year comes around every 4 years and is surely a sign that it is ok to be the odd one out. Not to follow a routine, to be inconsistent and out of sync. Not so, I am afraid.
Leap years are necessary to balance up the calendar we all use. The World actually takes 365 days and 6 hours (a quarter day) to rotate the Sun. So in order to make sure that our seasons or months don’t go skew-whiff, every four years we add a whole day to the calendar. At first glance it looks like a break in routine, But in fact a Leap Year is balancing out a bigger routine. The way that the Earth goes round the Sun.
Which brings us full circle back to the circadian rhythm or clock. This is in built because for millennia the Earth rotates every day as it orbits the Sun. For Millennia our only light was the light of the sun so it is not surprising that evolution has not yet caught up after a couple of hundred years of artificial lighting.