How a Faulty Circadian Rhythm Negatively Impacts Your Health
(and What to Do to Make It Right)
© 2019 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Your circadian rhythm, or your body's internal clock, regulates numerous biological processes that take place in your body throughout the day and night.
Jet lag is a well-known reason why your body clock may become disrupted, but anything that causes you to lose sleep or change your normal routine can be problematic.
Your biological clock regulates what time you go to sleep and wake up, and it also has profound impacts on other areas of your physical and mental health, such as your metabolism, sleep, weight, and risk of diseases and mood disorders.
What Disrupts Your Circadian Rhythm?
Your internal clock is highly intertwined with physiological and behavioral processes, such as what time you wake up and eat breakfast, your brain wave activity, hormone production, and cell regeneration. Because of this, it doesn't quickly adapt when your body suddenly takes on a new routine such as may occur during:
Changes in routine (such as staying up all night)
For example, if you travel into a different time zone, your body clock may be telling you it's time to go to sleep, when it's actually time to wake up. This is why people with jet lag often feel fatigued and disoriented, and may suffer from insomnia, lost appetite, stomachaches, and feeling "out of it." It can take a day or more for your circadian rhythm to adjust to the new routine.
However, sometimes your body clock will have a hard time adjusting to your new schedule (such as taking on a night shift), and this faulty body clock can wreak havoc on your body.
People who are sleep-deprived tend to be hungrier and crave high-sugar, high-carb foods, according to new research that further solidifies the link between your internal clock and potential weight gain.
Meanwhile, researchers are discovering that other factors, such as your diet, may also impact your circadian rhythm.
The Dangers of a Faulty Body Clock
Researchers from Northwestern University and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare have found that a faulty body clock can damage your metabolism and raise your risk of obesity and diabetes.
In one study on mice, they found that those fed a high-fat diet had disruptions to their body clocks that caused them to overeat when they should have been sleeping. The finding was similar to the patterns observed by people who snack all day long and then continue to eat during the night, when they should be asleep.
Meanwhile, research is increasingly showing that people who work night shifts or travel to different time zones frequently have disruptions to their body clocks that could impact their eating habits.
Numerous studies have shown that both short- and long-term sleep deprivation leads to a higher body-mass index (which indicates overweight).
The hormone leptin, which helps to regulate your appetite, is almost assuredly involved. When you don't get enough sleep, your leptin levels are disturbed, and so is your ability to feel full.
According to researchers from the University of Chicago, people who are sleep-deprived report feeling hungrier and craving foods high in sugar and starch.
In short, once your sleep patterns and body clock have been disrupted, your body will be prone to weight gain and overeating. Meanwhile, overeating may further throw off your circadian rhythm, leading to a vicious cycle that can be hard to overcome.
How to Keep Your Circadian Rhythm Running Smoothly
Quite simply, getting enough high-quality sleep is crucial to your body's internal clock. Ideally, this also means sleeping when the external cues tell you to (i.e. sleeping when it's dark outside and waking when it's light). You can help yourself to a restful night's sleep by:
Keeping to a regular schedule that includes a standard time to go to sleep and wake up.
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine. This can include a warm bath, a foot massage, stretching, or listening to a relaxation CD.
Reducing stress in your life.
Following a regular exercise program, but refrain from working out at within three hours of your bedtime.
Not drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages near your bedtime.
Makings your room "sleepable." A very dark (pitch black), cool room is best for sleep. You should also consider upgrading your mattress so that you feel completely comfortable and relaxed.
Cell Metabolism, Vol 6, 414-421, 07