Your body’s circadian rhythm is hugely important for good sleep, and most of us know how quickly sleep deprivation can impact how we are feeling. What you may not be quite so aware of is the potential effect on other areas of health. Researchers now believe that we have a number of different internal body clocks, all of which regulate and control different functions.
From appetite to immunity, you definitely want to make sure that your body’s circadian rhythms aren’t out of whack for very long. Here are just a few of the roles that your circadian rhythm plays for wellbeing and what can happen if you disrupt your body’s natural rhythms too much.
The effects on energy
The dreaded afternoon energy slump is partly due to your body clock. Your body’s circadian wave starts to dip after midday, which can make you tired and lethargic from early to mid-afternoon – even more so if your body clock is disrupted.
The effects on mood
Sleep disorders can be a symptom of mood disorders. People who experience depression may either sleep a lot or sleep very little. Levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin go up and down according to the light-dark cycle and the number of daylight hours, and serotonin is important to mood regulation.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an obvious indication of this and research has shown that mice bred to have serotonin functioning issues also had disruptions to their circadian rhythms. This can be significant as researchers have found that these types of disruptions can even predict mild cognitive impairment.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow have also found a link between circadian disruptions and bipolar disorder.
The effects on appetite
Disrupting your body clock can have big effects on your appetite and by default, your weight too.
Disrupting your circadian rhythm makes you more likely to overeat and crave unhealthy snacks. Your levels of the hormone ghrelin increases, which brings with it cravings for sweet and carb heavy foods. At the same time, levels of the hormone leptin can go down. This is bad news as our bodies rely on leptin to send signals to say that we’re full. The combination of hormonal disruptions means that you’re more likely to overeat the wrong types of foods. If you find yourself constantly fighting the urge to snack on these kinds of foods, it could be due to your circadian rhythm.
And just to make things that little bit more counterproductive, your body also finds it harder to burn calories when you’re not getting enough sleep at the right times. Those extra calories you’re taking in are pretty much destined to be stored as fat, especially if you’re not doing much exercise.
The effects on immunity
Do you get sick a lot? Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact immune health too.
The effects on blood pressure
Ever wondered why heart attacks and strokes are more likely to happen in the early morning? Your natural body clock has a lot to do with it as it’s responsible for regulating your blood pressure. When your body clock is disrupted, there can be physical effects too. For example, your heart rate and blood pressure go up at times when this wouldn’t happen naturally.
The effects on hormones
Your circadian rhythm affects production of key hormones, including melatonin and cortisol. Your body’s melatonin levels naturally rise in preparation for sleep and fall again in the morning.
Cortisol is another hormone that can be easily disrupted by changes to your body clock. Levels of this stress hormone are raised when you’re awake outside of your natural sleep cycle.
As you can see, it’s important to work with your body’s natural circadian rhythm as much as possible. You’ll sleep better and most other aspects of your health and wellbeing will benefit too. Your body clock can be disrupted by internal and external factors but there’s a lot that you can do to keep it on track too.