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Hacking the Biological Clock for the NEW NORMAL

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The biological clock of the human body is responsible for governing and regulating a variety of systems in the body. This includes the sleep-wake cycle, hormone secretion, metabolism, certain behaviors, blood pressure and even our immune system.
  • Some of our occupations are increasingly impacting our lifestyles in a variety of different ways. These changes get reflected in our biological clocks, especially when it comes to the times we wake up, sleep, rest or/and eat. If the timings aren’t right, it could result in a greater risk of various health problems.
  • One way to adjust your body clock for a healthier life is by adjusting your sleep/wake schedule to a healthier timeframe. Go to bed before 10 p.m., and make sure to get sufficient sleep of 7-8 hours a night.

 

In 2017, three scientists, Jeffery Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries regarding the molecular mechanisms in living organisms that control and propel the circadian rhythm (internal biological clock). Research has shown that nearly 80% of genes in the body are regulated by the daily circadian rhythm. Because of this, any changes in behavior that cause misalignment with our biological clock can result in increased risk of various diseases.

Global growth and progress on a variety of levels continue to move steadily forward. However, as a result, many businesses and professions are increasingly impacting people’s lifestyles in a variety of different ways. These changes also get reflected in our biological clocks, especially when it comes to times we wake up, sleep, rest, and eat. If the timings don’t match our normal circadian rhythms, it could result in a greater risk of various health problems.

Did You Know That Your Body Has an Internal Biological Clock?

The biological clock, also known as the body clock, of the human body is responsible for governing and regulating a variety of systems in the body. This includes the sleep-wake cycle, hormone secretion, metabolism, certain behaviors, blood pressure and even our immune system. Living in misalignment with our biological clock causes fluctuations throughout various systems in the body. Eventually this could result in negative consequences in the form of certain disorders or diseases, particularly obesity and diabetes.

The Location of the Biological Clock in the Body

On a basic level, the circadian clock can be divided into 2 parts, as follows:

  • Location 1: The central brain clock, which resides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
  • Location 2: The peripheral clocks that are present in nearly every tissue and organ system tested. This includes the muscles, fat cells, liver, pancreas, and digestive tract. These peripheral clocks receive signals from the central brain clock through the nervous system and hormones.

The most important factor in controlling our internal body clock is light. This is because the light and dark associated with the various times throughout the day passes through the retina into the central brain clock (SCN). This is then distributed to the peripheral clocks throughout the body including the muscles, fat cells, liver, pancreas and digestive tract.

What Causes Disruption in Our Biological Clocks?

  • Aging: As we get older, there are a number of factors that can cause the biological clock to begin to get “distorted.” This happens mainly due to degeneration of the hypothalamus, reduced melatonin hormones in the bloodstream, and decreased response to light. Additionally, if an elderly person begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or needs to stay/sleep at a medical facility, this too reduces cognitive functions and their overall response to the biological clock. As a result, we often see our elderly loved ones at home experiencing abnormal sleep schedules, or sleeping at odd times.
  • Work or career schedules that don’t coincide with normal sleep/wake times.
  • Our “new normal”: This makes it difficult to manage our work hours and sleep schedules due to working from home. Also, using electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets or iPads results in excessive exposure to harmful blue light and the resultant overstimulation of our eyes. In addition, frequent meals or snacking at night, or addiction to dramas/series can all cause sleep deprivation.

Sleep Deprivation = Body Clock Disruption = Risk of Telomere Shortening

  • Telomeres are structures at the end of each strand of DNA. Within the DNA, there are molecules that contain our genetic code, and telomeres protect the DNA strands from deteriorating too soon. Simply put, telomeres are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces that protect and keep them from fraying and falling apart too quickly.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, winner of the Nobel Prize for her discoveries regarding the importance of the telomere and its effects on the human body, tells us that telomere lengths shorten with age. A variety of other factors such as our stress levels and other risky behaviors like going to sleep too late or not getting adequate sleep can also all have a negative effect on the telomere length of both children and adults.
  • Accelerated telomere shortening can cause us to contract illnesses at a faster rate and with higher incidence than normal. Additionally, shortened telomeres have also been linked to various degenerative diseases, such as cancer, coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and many more.

Adjust Your Body Clock for a Healthier Life 

  • Adjust your sleep/wake schedule to a healthier timeframe. Go to bed before 10pm, and make sure to get sufficient sleep of 7-8 hours a night. For those who work night shifts and are unable to adjust their schedules accordingly, try to have at least 3 days a week when you are able to sleep normally. For those who have problems with snoring or sleep apnea, as this too can greatly affect the quality of your sleep, you should consult a specialist to get help.
  • Adjust your eating schedule to a more normal, healthy schedule. Avoid eating after 8 p.m. to reduce the risk of obesity in the future.
  • Exercise during the day instead of late at night. This is because many people experience insomnia after exercising. The best time to exercise is at least 1 hour after a meal, although you should wait for 2-3 hours after a heavy meal in order to allow the body and various enzymes to adjust back to normal. For good health, exercise 15-30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week. If you’re looking to burn fat, exercise times of 30 minutes or more are recommended. If you’re unable or don’t have the time to exercise outdoors, you can exercise at home as well.
  • During the day, you should try to ensure healthy exposure to light, especially mild sunlight and natural light. Don’t stay confined to your room. You can even get some natural light by sitting next to a window or going out on a balcony. At night, especially when nearing your bedtime, reduce light exposure, including light coming from mobile phones or TVs.

Finally, regardless of how the world changes around us, let’s try not to let these outside influences affect our body clocks. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods that are beneficial to our bodies, and exercising regularly, all at the right time, are keys to good health. We don’t need to buy anything to take these healthy steps—all we need is a bit of discipline and determination.


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