Scientists have discovered that your circadian rhythms regulate the energy levels in your cells. In addition, the proteins involved with circadian rhythms and metabolism are intrinsically linked and dependent upon each other. This finding has far-reaching implications, which could include new ways to treat cancer, diabetes, obesity and a host of related diseases.
24-hour circadian rhythms govern fundamental physiological functions in almost all organisms. These circadian clocks are the essential time-tracking systems in your body. Disruption of these rhythms can profoundly influence human health.
In a new study, researchers showed that an enzyme protein which is an essential molecular gear of the circadian machinery interacts with a protein that senses cell energy levels and modulates aging and metabolism.
This suggests that proper sleep and diet may help maintain or rebuild the balance between your circadian clock and your metabolism, and could also help explain why lack of rest or disruption of normal sleep patterns can increase hunger, leading to obesity-related illnesses and accelerated aging.
|Dr. Mercola’s Comments:|
An astonishing number of studies have linked many Americans’ 24/7 lifestyles — chock full of work, commitments, e-mail and other distractions — to a lack of sleep that’s had a devastating effect on the U.S. population’s health.
The physiological functions of virtually all organisms are governed by 24-hour circadian rhythms. Your circadian clock is an essential time-tracking system, which your body uses to anticipate environmental changes and adapt to the appropriate time of day.
When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can have a profound influence on your physical health. Previous research has already linked disrupted sleep cycles to obesity, diabetes, insomnia, depression, coronary heart diseases and even cancer.
The results of this latest study show that there’s a tightly regulated codependency between your circadian clock and your metabolism and cellular performance.
Says Paolo Sassone-Corsi, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Pharmacology:
“Your circadian rhythms and metabolism are closely partnered to ensure that cells function properly and remain healthy. When the balance between these two vital processes is upset, normal cellular function can be disrupted, and this can lead to illness and disease. The findings suggest that proper sleep and diet may help maintain or rebuild this balance.”
Honoring Your Biological Rhythms
Your circadian rhythm evolved over hundreds of generations to align your physiology with your environment. Your body clock assumes that like your ancestors, you sleep at night and stay awake during daylight hours.
If you confuse the situation by depriving yourself of enough hours of sleep, or eating meals at odd hours (times at which your internal clock expects you to be sleeping), you send conflicting signals to your body.
Based on the implications of this latest study, it’s easy to see how a compromised circadian system — caused by unhealthy sleep patterns — can lead to so many different kinds of disease, as proper cellular function and metabolism is essential for optimal overall health.
One of the worst things you can do to disrupt your body clock is to engage in regular night shift work. I realize many may not have a choice in selection of their job, but it is vital to understand that when you regularly shift your sleep patterns because of a job like police, fire or ER work, you are in fact sacrificing your longevity.
The Many Ways Disrupted Sleep Patterns Can Impact Your Health
Your individual circadian rhythm regulates activity throughout your body, from your brain, to your lungs and heart, to your liver, to your skeletal muscles. Numerous studies have shown the clear links between the quality of your sleep and your health. For example, your circadian clock influences your:
- Short term memory — Your circadian clock controls your daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness by alternately inhibiting and exciting different parts of your brain through regulating the release of certain neurotransmitters. The part of your brain known as the hippocampus must be excited in order for the things you learn to be organized in such a way that you’ll remember them later.
If your internal clock isn’t functioning properly, it causes the release of too much GABA. According to a previous study, an excess of GABA inhibits your brain in a way that leads to short term memory problems and the inability to retain new information.
- Creativity and learning performance – Proper sleep enhances performance, learning and memory by improving your creative ability to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas. It assists your brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.
- Weight gain/loss — Lack of sleep has been shown to affect levels of two hormones linked with appetite and eating behavior. When you are sleep deprived, your body decreases production of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain there is no need for more food. At the same time it increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.
- Diabetes and heart disease risk — Both too little and too much sleep may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. A 15-year study of more than 1,000 men found that those getting less than six or more than eight hours of sleep a night had a significantly increased diabetes risk.
A similar pattern has also been observed in the relationship between sleep and coronary heart disease.
- Immune system – Research has found that when you are well-rested you are likely to have a stronger immune response to viruses than when you have not gotten enough sleep. It’s believed that the release of certain hormones during sleep is responsible for boosting your immune system.
- Cancer risk — Disruption of your circadian clock may influence cancer progression through changes in hormones like melatonin, which your brain makes during sleep, and which is known to suppress tumor development.
Melatonin is an antioxidant that helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and slows the production of estrogen, which can activate cancer. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body may produce less melatonin and therefore may have less ability to fight cancer.
Furthermore, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), lack of sleep can have an adverse impact on other serious diseases such as:
- Parkinson disease (PD)
- Alzheimer disease (AD)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Gastrointestinal tract disorders
- Kidney disease
- Behavioral problems in children
In addition to upsetting your metabolism, poor sleeping habits can also harm your health due to elevated levels of corticosterone, the stress hormone associated with road rage.
When your body is under stress, it releases hormones that increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Your muscles get tense, your digestive processes stop, and certain brain centers are triggered, which alter your brain chemistry.
Left unchecked, this stress response can eventually lead to a variety of health problems including::
- Increased anxiety
Optimize Your Light Exposure
Two major highlights that are important to know are that it is important to optimize your melatonin levels through optimization of your light exposure.
It is important to have consistent regular exposure to bright light during the day and sleep in absolute darkness at night. Typically this is not possible unless you have blackout shades or drapes and turn off all the lights in your room.
Tune Your Body Clock for Optimal Health
Regardless of your age, the best way to keep your circadian clock functioning properly is to make sure you’re getting the necessary amount of high quality sleep, during those hours when your body expects to be sleeping. The right amount for you is based on your individual sleep requirements and not on a one-size-fits-all prescribed number of hours. For helpful guidance on how to improve your sleep, please review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.
Unfortunately, many people are quick to jump on the pill wagon once they start having sleep problems. But sleeping pills come with numerous side effects and can cause more harm than good. Better alternatives include using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), listening to a brainwave synchronization tape, or trying a natural remedy that can do the job without the side effects.
It’s important to realize that even if you do everything else right – eat nutritious meals, exercise, manage stress – if you aren’t getting high-quality sleep your health is bound to suffer in any of the numerous ways mentioned above.