Our bodies are similar to machines: Input yields output!
The intricacies of the human body are truly miraculous. Without proper maintenance, repair, and rest, our machines begin to wear. Bodies require attention and proper treatment to function at optimal levels. Natural wear and tear is expected, but to maintain high levels of performance requires an awareness of how behaviors and environments affect the quality of our health.
Numerous research studies identify our circadian cycles (sleep-wake cycles) as significant contributors to optimal health. Our sleep-wake cycle is a 24-hour regulator guided by external light produced by the sun. Increased amounts of external light causes the human body to feel more awake and alert, and conversely, decreased external light prepares the body for rest.
Other biological rhythms rely on the circadian cycle, as well. Research confirms that hunger, mental alertness, mood, stress, heart function, and immunity function on this daily rhythm. Since biological rhythms rely on the circadian cycle, we should be highly aware that a consistent functioning sleep-wake cycle is a contributor to improved health.
Many internal and external factors influence our moods. When rest is compromised, our moods become more irritable, less discriminating, and more susceptible to stress triggers and illness. Too much rest affects our moods as well and ironically will produce sluggish, lethargic feelings. As the body responds to and uses external light to navigate life, the change in seasons can trigger mood disorders. We have all heard of
which can wreak havoc on moods, among other body functions.
The circadian biological clock is controlled by a part of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), a group of cells in the hypothalamus that respond to light and dark signals. From the optic nerve of the eye, light travels to the SCN, signaling the internal clock that it is time to be awake. The SCN signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature, and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or awake.
We offer a few suggestions to keep our circadian cycles performing optimally:
1. Consistent sleep schedule: Sleep and wake at the same time every day and set a goal of at least seven hours of sleep per night.
2. Keep it dark: Melatonin is released when the body is exposed to darkness. Lights from smart phones, tablets, computers, and TV’s hinder the body’s ability to produce the necessary amount of melatonin required for good rest.
3. Invest in comfort: An average of 8 hours per night equates to one-third of our lives spent sleeping. It may be time to reevaluate mattresses, pillows, and sheets to increase our ability to rest and relax.
4. Nutrition: Time your food intake so you are not digesting heavily when you want to sleep. We all know caffeine habits negatively influence sleep, but other foods are known to promote improved sleeping habits including: chamomile tea, tart cherry juice, bananas, spinach, milk, and almonds.
5. Exercise: Physical activity aids rest as it fatigues all systems in the body. Your body requires 3 hours to distribute the cortisol (the alert hormone), so it is wise not to exercise immediately before bedtime.
As the basis for biological rhythms, it is time to increase the awareness of our circadian clocks:
The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. –E. Joseph Cossman