7 Things You May Not Know About Circadian Rhythms
Disrupting your circadian rhythms can lead to everything from jet lag to sleep deprivation.
Whenever we talk about sleep, we usually end up talking about circadian rhythms. But what is a circadian rhythm exactly? How does it affect our ability to get a good night’s rest? And if sleep is so important, what other positive effects can regulating circadian rhythms have on our health?
1. Circadian rhythms don't just have to do with sleep
Technically speaking, circadian rhythms are biological processes that occur in a daily cycle. Those rhythms include anything from photosynthesis in plants to mating behaviors in moths. No matter which organism they’re found in, however, they’re all driven by a circadian clock.
2. Your master clock is a bundle of brain cells located behind the bridge of your nose
In humans, the master clock is called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus.” And yes, it’s located at the base of the hypothalamus in the brain. This clock heavily influences practically all of our circadian rhythms and helps keep them all in sync.
3. Your circadian rhythms like to be in sync
Cells communicate with one another in order to synchronize their rhythms. The eyes relay the time of day, which travels to our master clock, which then sends signals to the other clocks in the rest of the body. This communication helps keep circadian rhythms like sleeping, eating, and temperature variations in sync.
4. Light isn’t the only thing that can affect your circadian rhythms
Although circadian rhythms are built into the cell and self-sustained, they also adjust to the local environment using external cues including light, temperature, and when we eat.
5. Your circadian clock is central to metabolic health
Metabolism plays a large role in our overall health and it has a circadian rhythm too. Many of the molecules involved in breaking down your food and generating cellular energy are controlled by your circadian clock. But if these metabolic circadian rhythms become misaligned with other cellular processes, they can all suffer.
6. The molecule NAD matters
Some molecules can help influence circadian rhythms by providing feedback between circadian activities and the clock itself. NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is one of those molecules. Not only are NAD levels influenced by the circadian clock, but they’re responsible for sending signals back to it as well.
7. Misalignment in circadian rhythms leads to things like jet lag and sleep deprivation
Jet lag happens whenever the various processes in our bodies that depend on circadian rhythms (eating, sleeping, hormone regulation, body temperature variations, etc), find themselves in an environment that doesn’t match their usual pattern. Shift work can have a similar effect. Irregular rhythms have been linked to various chronic health conditions and can lead to overall sleep deprivation.
Our sleeping pattern is just one of the many circadian rhythms processes in our body. And these patterns function better when they’re all in sync.
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