Biological clock

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Your body is tuned to a system.  Hence, systematise your routine and stick to a schedule.  This will go a long way in living a healthy life

Do you wake up early on weekends even though you don’t want to?  Have you ever suffered from jet lag?  If so, you are probably feeling one or more effects of the so-called biological clock within your system.

Cells are the fundamental units of life.  All of life’s processes happen within and by the cells.  One of the most amazing characteristics of cells is the fact that they know what time it is.  Your circadian rhythm operates on a 24 hour cycle – same as a clock, hence the term biological clock.  Biological clock is a term applied to the brain process which causes us to have 24-hour fluctuations in body temperature, hormone secretion, and a host of other bodily activities.  It’s our internal clock.  Our clock tells us when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to get up.  The clock also reduces the amount of urine secretion at night, so that we’re not as likely to be going to the washroom all night.  It is this clock that gets confused when we work night shifts or fly to Hawaii or when we accidentally reprogram ourselves to stay up late.  If the clock says it’s time to sleep, we would better pay attention or there will be consequences.  During the night, our body works differently than it does at daytime; we need sleep, at a certain moment when it is nearly impossible to stay awake.  When your rhythm gets interrupted, for example, if you experience several nights of sleep deprivation, it is thrown out of sync.  Accidents often happen late at night or early in the morning, when ideally a human being should be sleeping.

There are three different kinds of animals in the world: animals that normally awaken and move about in the dark, animals that only come out during the day, and animals that come out at dawn and at dusk.  Humans have developed the ability to do all of these things, but we are primarily daytime creatures.  Our internal clocks are geared to the hours of sunlight and are triggered and reset by variations in light and darkness.  Nature has designed it that way.  The natural cycle of the internal biological clock is about a day.  When these rhythms function without interference, we are in an easy and natural cycle of wakefulness and sleep, rest and activity, tiredness and alertness.

When the rhythms are disturbed, as happens all too easily in our modern society, things go awry and we are suddenly dealing with fatigue, sleeplessness, and reduced mental abilities.  Biological rhythms regulate all the major functions of our body including the production of hormones and steroids, the onset and completion of sleep, body temperature, heart rate, the production of urine, and more.  Each function has its own distinct rhythm, its own cycle and timing.  It’s easy for the rhythms to get pushed away from the normal.  In the world of high-speed air travel, overtime, night shifts and cost-effective shift rotations, one of the first things that goes awry is our natural sense of timing for sleep and wakefulness.  When this is coupled with work that involves taking critical decisions, attention to detail, rigid deadlines, extended working hours and pressure to get the job done, the result is often a disaster.  When rhythms are disrupted, the result is internal confusion.  This often leads to sleep deprivation.  The long-term effects of interrupted rhythm can leave you vulnerable to a number of diseases and health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes.  You may also be more vulnerable to psychological, mental and emotional disturbances.

There’s a time and place for everything, and when it comes to sleep, this old adage holds good.  During the night, we produce a sleep-regulating hormone called melatonin, which is part of the body’s timing system.  The lack of light triggers the pineal gland in our brain to release it and consequently we feel sleepy.  During the day, melatonin secretion is suppressed, so daytime sleep can be compromised.  On an average, night workers get 2-4 hours less sleep than day workers because the body is programmed to be awake during that time.

Sleeping well isn’t simply a luxury.  It’s a necessity to maintain good health. Whenever you disrupt your natural rhythm, you risk developing medical problems such as mood swings and memory disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular diseases and even reproductive risks.  And don’t forget fatigue, which can inhibit your bodybuilding process.  Our brain is programmed to act in different ways at different times of the day. Smolensky says, “Our muscle strength, coordination, mood and metabolism are all organised to support efficient activity during the day, and to support rest and repair of our body while we sleep.”

Systematise your routines.  Stick to a schedule.  Try to establish a consistent schedule so that you go to sleep and wake up about the same time every day, even on your days off.  This is the most effective way to keep your body’s rhythms in order.  Your body likes routine and regularity.  When you systematise your routines, you will experience an ease in living.  If you sleep longer on Sundays because you think you deprive yourself of sleep during the week, you will find that you don’t wake up feeling fresh even though you’ve slept longer.  You are still tired and sleepy.  Extra sleep does not really make up for a sleep deficit.  Once a biological clock gets attuned to a particular number of hours of sleep, it doesn’t require more.  Only the mind asks for it; the body doesn’t.

Good sleep hygiene means that you maintain a regular sleep schedule, waking and retiring at roughly the same time.  You should always strive to sleep in a quiet, dark room.  If you sleep during the day, you can make or purchase special curtains that will create a night time effect in your room.

Establish a schedule.  Once you have established an environment conducive to getting a good night’s rest, you should strive to establish other healthy lifestyle habits that can help you achieve restful sleep.  Getting regular exercise can help you maintain a steady rhythm.  Ideally, you should exercise at the same time every day.

Step outside in the morning.  Exposure to early sunlight helps set your biological clock so that your body is on the right timetable for sleep during night.  Changes in the timing of light and dark periods will dramatically upset your biological clock.  This is what is otherwise known as ‘Jet Lag’.

Don’t eat unless you are hungry.  If you do get up in the middle of the night, don’t eat a snack simply for the sake of keeping yourself occupied.  Else, your stomach will think it’s a good idea to wake you up in the wee hours.

When your meal timings are regular, the internal biological clock notes the time for everything.  That’s why a man who wakes up at 5’0 clock will regularly wake up at about the same time.  Consequently, as our mealtime approaches, our digestive system anticipates food and secretes acids and other juices in preparation.  Having our food before or much after this time will thus lead to improper digestion.

The best strategy for dealing with rhythms is to realise that they are the fundamental truths of our physical existence, and that they cannot be ignored without consequences.  Do the best you can, and realise that they must be honoured, one way or another.

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