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Posts Tagged ‘circadian rhythm’

721 nobel prize circadian

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to researchers for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythm, our biological “clock.” This sleep-wake cycle helps us move between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals, and regulates important functions such as:

  • Behavior
  • Sleep 
  • Mood Immunity 
  • Brain function 
  • Hormone levels 
  • Metabolism

Although we’ve long known the circadian rhythm exists, the Nobel laureates isolated the gene that controls it and identified the proteins that govern its cyclical function.

The importance of healthy circadian rhythm

Humans are similar to other animals in that our internal clocks are set to the rising and setting of the sun. A healthy sleep-wake cycle is critical for many aspects of our health. Circadian rhythm imbalances increase risk for heart disease, obesity, mood disturbances, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Despite the circadian rhythm’s intuitive design, our modern lives tend to sabotage its critical balance. Some disruptive factors can’t be avoided while others can, but for most we have the tools to minimize the negative effects.

Daylight savings wrecks the biological clock each year

Daylight savings time changes throw a kink in our daily rhythm. The time change is minimal, but studies show rates of driving fatalities, workplace injuries, suicides, and heart attacks rise after the spring-forward change. And night owls take the longest to recover.

Prepare for daylight savings time by shifting your bedtime and waking time a bit every day the week before.

Traveling across time zones

Everyone laments how jet lag can wipe you out. Jet lag occurs when the time of day doesn’t line up with your body’s clock. Crossing two time zones should take you about a day of readjustment; crossing six could take three days or more. But beware; chronic time zone jumping can lead to a suppressed immune system, chronic fatigue, and memory issues.

Plan ahead by moving your body’s time clock toward the destination time zone during the week before.

Hydrate before and during the trip.

Choose a flight that gets to your destination in early evening and stay up only until 10 p.m. local time. If you arrive early and are exhausted, take a two-hour nap but no longer.

Once at your destination, expose yourself to the sun’s rays to help your body sync up with the new time zone.

Poor sleep habits

Twenty percent of the population is estimated to sleep too little (less than 6 hours a night); this can lead to changes in genes that regulate stress, our immune system, sleep-wake cycles, inflammation, and aging. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress, inflammation, dementia, and depression.

The CDC says insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic and research has established that the constant exposure to blue light from electronic devices is a major culprit.

Blue light and screen time

Changes in the levels of the hormone melatonin in your body are what make you fall asleep. During a normal day, morning light stimulates the body to decrease your melatonin level, promoting wakefulness, then as the day darkens, melatonin increases to encourage sleep.

However, adults and children disrupt this cycle by using smart phones and tablets late into the night. This can cause chronic insomnia because the blue light these devices emit is perceived by our brains as daytime light, which suppresses melatonin and keeps us awake.

Minimize blue screen time. Read a book instead. Turn off all screens (phone included) two hours before bed. If you can’t do that, get a pair of orange safety glasses.

Improper daytime and nighttime light exposure

Proper patterns of light exposure during the day are a major factor affecting how well we sleep.

Start each day with as much bright light as possible. Eat breakfast with as many lights on as possible to stimulate serotonin production, which helps melatonin production later in the day.

Get light during the day at home and work. Open the shades; turn on all the lights (try full-spectrum); sit by a window and look out often; take a walk outside during your breaks.

Minimize light in the evening by dimming or turning off unnecessary lights. Put orange bulbs in lamps you use at night, especially next to your bed and for reading. This helps to jump start melatonin production in preparation for sleep.

Lack of sunlight

Patterns of light during the day aren’t the only way light affects our circadian rhythm; exposure to actual sunlight is key for healthy function of the body and brain.

Research shows the average person spends less than an hour a day outside. Shift workers spend even less time outdoors. Lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits production of melatonin, affecting sleep and potentially affecting our ability to produce Vitamin D, key for bone health, mood regulation, and immune function.

Get direct sunlight every day. If you can’t get outside, use a quality light box early in the day.

Go sunglasses-free even for just 10–15 minutes, to provide beneficial sunlight exposure to your eyes and brain.

Respecting our body’s natural rhythm

Your body’s innate sleep cycle is largely controlled by the amount and pattern of light and dark you are exposed to each day. By managing the lifestyle factors that disrupt your circadian rhythm, you will support your body’s ability to function well and stay healthy. For help with sleep issues, please contact my office.

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adrenal-exhaustion-chronic-stress-adrenal-saliva-test

It’s a constant refrain: We’re too stressed out. But how stressed out are we really? An adrenal saliva test can tell you whether your cortisol (the stress hormone) is too high or too low, whether your circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) is normal, and also pin point the cause of your symptoms: adrenal fatigue or high adrenal hormones.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue

  • Fatigue
  • Slow to get going in the morning
  • Energy crash in the afternoon
  • Craving sweets, caffeine, or nicotine
  • Unstable behavior; moodiness
  • Shaky, light-headed, or irritable if meals are delayed
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Dizziness when moving from sitting to standing

Symptoms of high adrenal hormones

  • Excess belly fat
  • Insulin resistance (high blood sugar)
  • Insomnia
  • Not feeling rested in the morning
  • Women grow facial hair; men grow breasts
  • PCOS in women (polycystic ovarian syndrome).

How to do the adrenal saliva test

The adrenal saliva test requires you to collect a small vial of saliva several times throughout the day. Adrenal stress is always caused by something else, such as unstable blood sugar, a chronic infection, or an autoimmune disease. So the importance of the adrenal saliva test is that it allows us to track the progress of a protocol.

One test is a good place to start, but the second and third tests tell us if we’re on the right track with a protocol; adrenal health should improve as conditions resolve. If things do not improve, it means we must dig deeper to find out what is taxing the body.

Measuring the circadian rhythm

An abnormal sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one symptom of adrenal stress. A normal circadian rhythm shows high cortisol in the morning and low cortisol at night. This makes us alert when we wake up and tired before bed. For many, this rhythm is backwards, causing fatigue in the morning and insomnia at night. In addition, instead of the usual gradual decline throughout the day, cortisol may suddenly drop in the afternoon, causing an energy crash.

The stages of stress

By measuring circadian rhythm, precursor hormones (DHEA and 17 hydroxyprogesterone), and cortisol levels, the adrenal saliva test can tell you whether you are in the “alarm reaction” of high adrenal hormones, in adrenal exhaustion, or somewhere in between. Contrary to popular belief, one does not necessarily progress from alarm reaction to adrenal fatigue; adrenal function can jump around between phases, or stay in one phase for years.

The adrenal saliva test also measures total SIgA (secretory antibodies). SIgA levels measure the impact of stress on the immune system. When SIgA is low, it means a person is more susceptible to food intolerances, infections, and other assaults on the immune system.

A variety of herbal and nutritional compounds can profoundly influence adrenal function, but they are not the first line of defense. You and your doctor must first ferret out what is causing your adrenal stress and make addressing that a priority. Only then is adrenal support appropriate.

Ask my office how you can support your adrenal health.

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