How to Maintain your Body Clock

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Our society is characterized more and more by work patterns and other activities that have negative effects on the body clock. Shift work, being ‘on-call’, long-haul flights and even our food and drink contribute to body clock disruptions. The full extent of the relationship between sleep and health remains undiscovered. What we currently know points to a delicate and complex interrelationship between the need for sleep in order to maintain health and wellbeing.

     

    Our bodies are tied in to a 24 hour sleep-wake schedule. This ‘circadian rhythm’ involves an intricate series of activities involving temperature change, endocrine changes and secretion of hormones. The body clock is regulated by a tiny cluster of cells known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei, located in the hypothalamus region of the brain. Light signals from the optic nerve pass through the nuclei and this in turn regulates the production of the hormone melatonin. Darkness has the effect of releasing melatonin into the bloodstream and this reduces body temperature.

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    The body clock can, and does, desynchronize for a variety of reasons. Apart from exposure to light, other environmental factors such as physical activity and food intake act as daily cues to help maintain the body clock. However, our age and our lifestyle can both contribute to body clock disruptions. As we age the part of the brain that helps to regulate the body clock starts to deteriorate. This, for example, can lead to increases in body temperature during the night and disturbed sleep. Older people tend to rely much more on external cues to monitor their sleep-wake cycle.

     

    Rotating shifts have been linked to coronary heart disease, social disruptions, stress, and a variety of gastric disturbances, to name just four. Twelve hour rotating shifts that involve heavy manual work appear to be the most harmful to health. Daytime sleep never seems to fully compensate as this is typically more fragmented and shorter than it would be at night.

     

    Anything that affects the central nervous system has to be taken into consideration. Typically this will include caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. A coffee before bedtime can significantly delay the onset of sleep. As caffeine is found in many drinks and foods, late eating can be another factor in delayed or disrupted sleep.

     

    Clocks are finely tuned instruments that need to be cared for, monitored and maintained if they are to work for a long time. The same can be said for the human body clock, so treat it with care and you’ll see the benefits.

Published On: June 18, 2008