A look at the various and surprising ways your body clock controls your health

Are you a person who likes routines and follows schedules, or are you that someone who likes to do things spontaneously? Do you eat, sleep, exercise on time or do you do these only when you have the time (and even then, there’s something else you suddenly realize you have to do)? You may want to start following a schedule as the clock in your body is not only responsible for sleep, but also your overall health and performance, according to studies.

The body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, regulates when we feel awake and sleepy over a 24-hour period. It is controlled by a central clock in the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Being exposed to sunlight adjusts the clock so that it stays in sync with day and night. Special clock genes in the SCN work to produce proteins that keep the body working all day. These clock genes are synchronized with the clocks in other cells by the master clock in the brain. All of the clocks in the body allows us to anticipate recurring events.

Circadian rhythms and its effect on the heart, nearsightedness, back pain, and skin cancer

Our health is negatively affected when we do not live in rhythm with our internal clock. This was exemplified in a major study which found that heart surgery performed in the morning were more likely to cause grave complications than operations done in the afternoon. This is because heart cells are at their best in the afternoon, and are thus more prepared to cope with trauma.

Qing-Jun Meng, a professor of chronobiology at the University of Manchester, explained that our clocks, as they were, are not only out-of-sync with the outside world, but also with each other. Disrupted circadian rhythms force the internal clocks to adjust.

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Previous research found that young adults who were nearsighted had triple or more melatonin, a hormone that aids in the regulation of SCN in reaction to light, in the early morning in contrast to those with normal sight. Higher melatonin levels make us sleepy. The study, published in the journal Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, revealed that the body clocks of nearsighted adults may be interrupted by the increased overall melatonin production.

Disrupted body clocks also caused caused degeneration of rats’ spinal discs. Meng explained that not having the daily rhythm makes the disc tissue age faster.

Like light exposure, when you eat can disrupt the internal clocks. Another research showed that eating within 12 noon to 11 p.m. resulted to weight gain and the increased the risk of heart disease and diabetes, contrary to those who ate the same meals within 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Results of the study revealed that eating late burned more carbohydrates, but less fat. Another study found that delaying meals caused the clocks in the body to become desynchronized, causing the body to work less effectively. (Related: Morning sunlight exposure helps with weight loss.)

“If your food is arriving at a regular time of day, you want your metabolic clocks synchronized to when you’re going to eat, so that they can process it as efficiently as possible,” explained Jonathan Johnston, a chronobiologist at the University of Surrey.

The amount of food you eat in every meal also affects the body clock. Another study revealed that people who eat irregular amounts of food had greater cardiovascular, diabetes, and obesity risks. Irregular meal schedules could disrupt the biological clock in skin cells, which make you more vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer.

“If you can maintain a fixed schedule, then your clocks should be in greater synchrony with your environment,” said Meng.

Meng suggested that maximizing light exposure in the morning, eating regular meals, having a fixed schedule to exercise, and maintaining a consistent bedtime should help improve your overall health.

Like what you’re reading? You can find similar health-related articles on circadian rhythms at Research.news.

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