Our body is finely in tune with certain environmental and internal cues. These cues set our biorhythms. When our biorhythms are functioning as they should, we are able to sleep well, our tissues are able to heal, our appetite is controlled, our body-fat stores are kept at bay, and our hormones are released in the correct amounts and at the most effective times of the day. When our biorhythms are not well regulated, however, our body does not function as efficiently and effectively as it could. The result is a range of symptoms that can be quite debilitating. Luckily there are some simple ways we can restore our biorhythms.
So What Exactly is a Biorhythm?
In our body there are several ‘body clocks’ that are functioning often simultaneously throughout the day. These clocks are known as biorhythms or circadian rhythms and refer to the cycle of physiological and biological processes that fluctuate on a roughly 24–hour timetable. You have probably noticed these tendencies yourself, feeling more energetic and alert during peak periods of the day and more lethargic and run down at other times of the day. Another example is that mental alertness tends to peak twice in a day, at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., while physical strength tends to crest at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
While we all have circadian rhythms there are some differences in the length of the cycles, which helps to explain why some of us are ‘night owls’ and others are ‘morning people’. There also appears to be a genetic component to our rhythms, which explains why some lifestyle habits such as staying up late appear to run in some families and not in others.
We can see that melatonin secretion, body temperature, vascular changes and bowel changes, amongst other things, change throughout the day as part of our biorhythms at work. To highlight this further let us focus on melatonin, our sleep hormone, which is released at around 9 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. This sets in place our natural sleep cycle. For those of us who work late hours or night shift we are in direct contention with this natural cycle and this may lead to issues with sleep or other aspects of our health.
One of the worst work situations I have found myself in was when I was undertaking alternating night and day shifts at a hospital. No sooner would my body clock get used to a night-time routine than I would have to switch to a day shift and vice versa. I would constantly feel tired, have no appetite yet was gaining weight, and had great difficulty sleeping when I was meant to. After a while I found that my mood started deteriorating and looking back on the situation I was probably bordering on depression. The best thing I felt I could do in that situation was to not alternate day and night shifts but rather request from my boss at the time extended periods of day shifts followed by nights shifts and so on. This way I was granted at least 3–4 weeks at a time to get used to a new routine. That way my biorhythms would have time to adjust.
What Inﬂuences Your Biorhythms?
Our biorhythms are very much in tune with environmental cues as well as internal body cues, but the greatest inﬂuence to our biorhythms is exposure to sunlight. Regular exposure to sunlight during waking hours helps to set our biorhythms. Other inﬂuences to our biorhythms include when we eat, when we sleep, when we are most active, and whether we are exposed to artiﬁcial lighting. Our modern-day lifestyles have altered our usual practices to the point where we are no longer in tune with internal body cues, which have become confused with our body’s response to artiﬁcial external cues.
So How Do You Know If Your Biorhythm is Out of Balance?
When our biorhythms are not functioning well we can experience a range of symptoms including:
- Sleep disruption
- Difﬁculty falling asleep
- Increased appetite
- Difﬁculty losing weight
- Not healing quickly following an injury, illness, or period of intense exercise
- Reduced mental concentration
A growing body of research has suggested that disrupted biorhythms may increase the chance of cardiovascular complications such as heart attacks, as well as obesity and neurological problems like depression and bipolar disorder.
How Can You Restore Your Biorhythm?
The best way to strengthen our biorhythms is to strengthen our ‘zeitgebers’. It was German Scientist Jurgen Aschoff who ﬁrst coined the term zeitgeber, which translated means ‘time-keeper’ or ‘synchroniser’. What Aschoff found was that our body actually synchronises to certain cues afforded by routine. Although we may often resist routine in favour of being ﬂexible with our schedules our body actually needs routine to set its biorhythms. Routine timing for some key events throughout the day helps to establisha predictable pattern of hormone release and helps to set our body clocks. These key events or zeitgebers include:
- Attempt to go to bed at the same time each night
- Wake up at the same time each morning
- Eat at roughly the same times each day
- Avoid eating at unusual times including very late at night
- Exercise at the same times each day
- Get some natural sunlight exposure each day
These key events reinforce the body’s natural sleep-awake cycle and the biorhythms that are intertwined with our sleep-awake cycle. Now if this seems too strict the steps to try at a minimum, are, to wake at the same time each morning and to get some natural sunlight exposure each day. These two steps alone will go a long way in strengthening your biorhythm.
The above also works if you are travelling and need to reset your body clock to a new time zone. Simply re-establish a daily schedule based on the above activities to your new time zone. After just a few days of being consistent with your new routine your body clock, and therefore biorhythms, will reset and in turn you will avoid extended jet lag. The same goes for restoring your biorhythm even if you are not travelling. Simply strengthen your zeitgebers and be consistent with the above activities and within a few days your body clock is able to be set. The result is waking feeling refreshed, having an appetite that is under control, bowel motions that come at regular times, and feeling less fatigued throughout the day.