5 Ways Circadian Rhythms Affect Health
DEFINITION: Circadian Rhythms are physiological processes that occur within the body over a 24hr period. They can be both internally and externally modulated.
1. Detoxing The Body, It's Own Way
No detox product on the market is as good at detoxing your body then your body itself. The Liver and the Kidneys can be thought of as detox machines, and a large part of their job is to filter out toxins and other compounds that shouldn't be in your body. Even if you eat a clean and healthy diet there are still plenty of things to detoxify. When anything in your body is metabolised, like food or stored energy/nutrients, the body produces waste products, and they have to be found and expelled from your system. So, how do we allow our own bodies to detox in the most efficient way? Improve Circadian Rhythms. Morning is the natural time our Circadian Rhythms expel waste products. If when we wake up and we don't go to the toilet, but instead go much later in the day, it can be a sign that our detoxification is less than optimal and might be disrupted. Eating too early in the morning and having very inconsistent sleep and wake times are a couple things that can effect this process. Other things that effect this could be inconsistent meal times and food choices, poor digestion, stress, bad sleep and poor sunlight exposure.
2. Using Stored Energy
If our Circadian Rhythms have cycled correctly e.g. run efficiently and unimpeded, our body's ability to use stored energy becomes much better. This is due to the body being in chemical equilibrium and in abundance of the hormones responsible for collecting and using stored energy. Stress hormones, or hormones that deal with digestive issues (like too much food in all stages of digestion), do not provide an efficient environment for energy utilisation. This can result in feelings of sluggishness and fatigue despite having eaten an energy rich meal. The body is designed to use stored energy well, and in fact can free up more energy for use if it is not constantly dealing with new food in the digestive system. Avoid eating a huge breakfast full of Carbohydrate like bread and cereals, and focus on essential Proteins and Fats to start off your day. That way the body is dealing with simple things to digest while using its own stored energy when required afterwards. Snacking should also be avoided as crowding all stages of the digestive tract can put body chemistry out of equilibrium. A minimum of three hours should left between eating.
3. Nutrient Absorption
The first rule of nutrition is; It's not what you eat, but what you absorb. This is important because there will be plenty of examples when we eat something and we simply won't absorb it. Those who constantly eat junk food and have poor digestion may not absorb everything they eat. Even if we eat clean foods, if we are crowding our digestive system too much we may not have enough enzymes to devote to digestion. How do we improve our body's absorption? Make sure our Circadian Rhythms are running smoothly. If we've used stored energy throughout the day, then our bodies are ready to absorb more, to replenish energy reservoirs. This is why it's better to save heavier, energy rich meals for later in the day, when our bodies can restock. Part of nutrient absorption is having the need for nutrients in the first place, so if our bodies haven't used any stored energy or nutrients it is going to have a hard time dealing with the flood of new nutrients coming in from the digestive tract. This could mean valuable nutrients like Protein and Fat being converted into stored energy, like body fat. Circadian Rhythms are Rhythmic and rely on each note being played in tune for the whole cycle to work optimally, one stage can and will influence the others.
4. Quality Sleep
We all know why sleep is important, and we all know how it feels when we wake up from a really good night's sleep - refreshed, energetic and content. But why is it such a rare occurrence? It's more than likely due to poor Circadian Rhythms. Every stage of our natural body cycle leads into the next. If we have poor sleep we have poor detox, if we have poor detox we have poor energy utilisation, if we have poor energy utilisation we have poor absorption and digestion, and if we have poor digestion then we may have poor sleep and poor hormone production, leading to all sorts of problems - it's a never ending circle. What can we do to stop this downward spiral? Simple; Fix every single stage of our Circadian Rhythms, starting with sleep and wake cycles. You absolutely must wake up at the same time every single day, preferably just before or just after sunrise. Then go to bed at the same time each evening - and yes, this still applies on the weekend. Late nights and late mornings on the weekend is a contributing factor for poor bio-rhythms and will effect your natural body cycles. Even if you go to bed late due to an unforeseen reason you should wake up at the usual time. If you feel you need to catch up on sleep on the weekend it could be due to poor sleep quality rather than a lack of time in bed. As Arnold Schwarzenegger says, you must 'sleep faster' - but this is only done if you can sleep well.
5. Hormone Production
Melatonin can be described as the main sleeping hormone, and its production is actually stimulated by our optic nerve by detecting varying levels of light. Natural light exposure stimulates the Optic nerve to signal the Pineal Gland in the brain to halt production of Melatonin, and when natural light diminishes towards the evening the lack of stimulation of the Pineal Gland allows for the production and release of Melatonin. Although not essential for sleep to occur, Melatonin helps regulate normal sleep patterns and improves sleep quality. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a building block for Melatonin and Serotonin, both neurotransmitters, and must be absorbed from the diet. Poor absorption of Tryptophan may lead to reduced levels of Serotonin and Melatonin, which can affect mood and sleep (another reason why regulating Circadian Rhythms for nutrient absorption is so important). Whole food diets rich in protein and vegetables will ensure enough Tryptophan is eaten (but not necessarily absorbed), but ensure that excessively restrictive or extreme dieting is avoided if you want to improve levels of Melatonin and Serotonin, as these will reduce both absorption of Tryptophan as well as uptake into body cells. Improving sleep will also allow other important hormones such as sex hormones (Testosterone, Oestrogen) and Growth Hormone (Fat burn, recovery) to be produced in healthy amounts.
Every stage of our Circadian Rhythms influences the others and is best thought of as one complete efficient cycle rather than individual sections. We cannot be our healthiest selves without optimising the entire cycle and so our health and vitality will suffer significantly if we neglect this important part of our biology. Keep wake cycles consistent, eat a light but nutritious breakfast + don't snack (to prevent feeling sluggish), Eat heavy or energy rich food later in the day to ensure proper absorption and digestion, improve sleep quality and mood by avoiding high light exposure in the evening and obsessive or restrictive diets.
Happy Circadian Rhythms!