7 Things You May Not Know About Circadian Rhythm
Disrupting your circadian rhythm 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 any biological process that occur on a daily basis. 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 circadian clock is a bundle of nerves located at the base of your neck
In humans, the circadian clock is called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus.” And yes, it’s located at the base of the hypothalamus in the brain.
3. Your circadian rhythms like to be in sync
Cells communicate with each other so they can synchronize their rhythms. The eyes relay the time of day, which travels to our circadian clock, which then sends signals to the other clocks in the rest of the body. This coordinated timing of things like our sleep, thirst, and appetite is often referred to as our biological clock.
4. Light isn’t the only thing that can affect your circadian rhythm
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 redox cycles.
5. Redox cycles play an important part in regulating sleeping patterns
Redox cycles are the reason why common knowledge tells us to avoid eating right before bed. Redoxes are chemical reactions in which the charged state of an atom changes. One of those reactions happens when our cells turn nutrients into energy. If your cells are busy doing that while you’re trying to sleep, it can knock the rest of your circadian rhythm processes out of sync.
6. Your circadian clock is central to metabolic health
The metabolic process of converting food into energy is called “cellular respiration” and it relies on a circadian rhythm too. But if it becomes misaligned with other cellular processes, none of them will be able to function as well. Certain enzymes, like NAD, can help regulate circadian rhythms during sleep, which encourages every other process in your body to better communicate with one another and sync up.
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 rhythm (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 rhythm processes in our body. And these patterns function better when they’re all in sync.