If you have ever experienced the effects of jet lag, or felt very tired after working rotating shifts during the week, then what you have technically experienced is your body’s circadian rhythm has been adversely affected.
The word circadian comes from the Latin words ‘circa’ and ‘diem’ which translated into English, means about a day. But as far as your body is concerned, one day simply refers to a 24-hour period.
Circadian, although generally associated with the sleep patterns of us humans, also has a direct influence on our blood pressure, our body temperature and our body’s production of hormones. Working together these internal monitors tell your body several things; such as when it is time to sleep, when it’s time to wake up, and what your moods will be at any given time.
Biological rhythm is an important aspect of nature as a whole. For instance, the Earth completes a rotation every 24-hours and that completes what we know as one day… and each and every year the seasons they come and the seasons they go.
As you can well imagine… and have probably witnessed in one form or another, the circadian rhythm plays a vital role in the lives of animals as well. As just one example, one would have to look no further than the annual natural rhythm of the migration of countless species of birds every year.
When it comes to your sleeping-awake cycle, two primary environmental factors come into play: temperature and light. Even stimuli such as the sound of your alarm clock, and what and when you have eaten can also affect your Circadian rhythm. In women, their menstrual cycles are also a natural rhythm.
Internally, it is the part of your brain called the hypothalamus that directly influences your circadian rhythm. More specifically, the two large clusters of neurons situated on either side of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic nuclei or SCN is considered the body’s master clock.
The SCN works in conjunction with other genes in your body to help your body keep track of time. It is with the stimulation and/or release of different chemicals, hormones and neurotransmitters that your body knows when it is time to go to sleep and time to wake up… when it’s time to eat and more.
When it comes to your sleep, this is a simplistic overview of how the circadian rhythm works.
At the first sign of daylight, the body begins to produce hormones and neurotransmitters including serotonin and cortisol. These hormones assist your body to transition into an awakened state by slightly raising your body temperature and your blood pressure. In contrast, as daylight begins to fade, your body begins to release melatonin, which is the primary signal to the body to initiate the process of lowering blood pressure and to preparing itself for sleeping.
When the body’s circadian rhythm is in balance, the proper timing and release of these important chemicals, hormones and neurotransmitters is achieved.
In contrast, when your body’s circadian rhythm is out of whack this timing and release is just that. In fact, a prolonged imbalance can and often does lead to the onset of a number of sleep disorders and emotional disturbances.
So there is something to be said for being stuck in a routine… at least it would seem then that a big part being healthy and happy is all about keeping your circadian rhythm happy and not confused.