There are many things that have changed our lives since COVID-19 hit our shores this year. After speaking to our clients there seems to be quite a few positive changes that we are seeing that we did not expect. This is not unique to our client base. As I dug around there is science supporting this.
People have reported that their sleep has improved, they are more active, being conscious of getting out for a walk or joining online exercise plans. This has resulted in many of us feeling less stressed. So, what could be going on in a time of pandemic that has caused this response?
For many being at home meant they had a few more hours available in the day to sleep in and be active. I came across some research on circadian rhythms and their impact on our that could explain what is going on.
Every organ and even every cell in our body has a circadian or 24 hour clock. Circadian clocks turn on and off thousands of genes at the right time of the day or night. These rhythms work together to maintain healthy balance of brain chemicals, hormones, and nutrients.
When our rhythms break down, we are more likely to suffer from a wide range of diseases such as obesity, depression and cancer. We can tune our daily habits of eating, sleeping, or getting the right amount of light to sustain our circadian rhythms. Healthy rhythms nurture healthy body and healthy mind according to Dr. Satchin Panda, a Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.
Satchin’s work deals specifically with the timing of food and its relationship with our biological clocks governed by circadian rhythm and the circadian rhythm in general. Professor Panda explores the genes, molecules and cells that keep the whole body on the same circadian clock.
A section of the hypothalamus called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) lies at the centre of the body’s master clock and gets input directly from light sensors in the eyes, keeping the rest of the body on schedule. Panda discovered how these light sensors work, as well as how cellular timekeepers in other parts of the body function. He also uncovered a novel blue light sensor in the retina that measures ambient light level and sets the time to go to sleep and wake up every day.
In the process of exploring how the liver’s daily cycle works, Panda found that mice which eat within a set amount of time (12 hours) resulted in slimmer, healthier mice than those who ate the same number of calories in a larger window of time, showing that when one eats may be as important as what one eats. If the benefits of this “12-hour diet” hold true in humans, it could have profound impacts on treating overeating disorders, diabetes, and obesity.
The circadian clock, he found, even mediates the immune system. Studies on mice with a crucial circadian molecule missing had higher levels of inflammation in their bodies than other mice, suggesting that genes and molecules involved in the circadian clock could be drug targets for conditions linked to inflammation, such as infections or cancer. This mean that we may all have an inbuilt timing mechanism that we could tap into to determine our timing of medical treatments, taking medications, when to eat and exercise.
This information may also provide answers to infertility issues and timing of IVF treatments to enhance conception and pregnancy.
Dr. Satchin Panda states that, "We’ve inhabited this planet for thousands of years, and while many things have changed, there has always been one constant: Every single day the sun rises and at night it falls. “We’re designed to have 24-hour rhythms in our physiology and metabolism.
These rhythms exist because, just like our brains need to go to sleep each night to repair, reset and rejuvenate, every organ needs to have down time to repair and reset as well.” Could it be this simple? Do we just need to follow our inbuilt rhythms to manage our health by following the rise and fall of the sun?
Circadian rhythms help set our sleep patterns as the body’s master clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN), in the brain that controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. This nucleus contains thousands of cells that receive information about light exposure directly from the eyes and controls our behavioural rhythms. When light is scarce, the SCN sends signals to produce more melatonin. Shift work and blue light from electronic devices have been found to have a negative impact on your circadian rhythms.
So how can we help keep your personal circadian rhythms running smoothly?
1. Keep your sleep schedule consistent throughout the week. Your circadian rhythms work best when you have regular sleep habits, like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same time each day. Also skip using blue light-emitting devices at least one hour before going to bed. This type of light has been shown to impact the levels of melatonin your body produces more than any other wavelength. Ideally, we should be in bed by 10pm, so keep late nights to a minimum where possible. Humans are not evolved for night shift, night-time lights, and intercontinental travel.
Modern-life challenges to our circadian system present a long-term threat to our health and we see this in the rise in chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. For those suffering with long-term insomnia, this is one area that we need to address. This is a specific area that we address with all our clients during their consultations.
2. Try to keep your meals firmly set between a 10-hour eating window and follow sunrise and sunset. This means if you eat breakfast at 8 am you need to finish your last bite of food by 8 pm at night. Remember, nothing to eat outside of this time frame.
Dr Panda also found eating most of our carbohydrates in the morning and less at night to help sleep quality and fat burning overnight.
While modern life has certainly impacted the way, we view and approach sleep, we can flip the script by utilising technology to help guide us back into our natural cycles. If you want to see the Ted talk with Dr. Satchin Panda, head over to our Facebook site where we have posted the full 16 minute video presentation.
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