Having spent over 20 days east of the Mississippi this summer, I am happy to be home and to sleep in my own bed. While I am a bit of a free spirit, I know the importance of having a routine, a schedule, exercising regularly, and eating my last meal many hours before bedtime.
No doubt keeping a daily schedule/routine helps me maintain balance and keeps my biological clock in sync. Of course, when you are away from home, it isn’t easy to maintain a routine, especially when a few other people are thrown into the mix. Did you know almost every tissue and organ in your body has its own clock? When your biological clock is out of sync with the environment, your health can be negatively affected.
The internal clock is referred to as your circadian clock. Your clock is driven by your circadian rhythms, that is, the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms can influence important functions in our bodies, such as hormone release, eating habits, digestion, body temperature, and even the most optimal time to perform certain tasks. Disruption of your circadian rhythms can increase your risk of disease.
Most people notice the effect of circadian rhythms on their sleep patterns because those patterns are ruled by light and darkness. When sleep patterns are interrupted by shift work, traveling over many time zones, or just getting busy, your health is affected. According to an article in The New York Times, “the misalignment between a person’s lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by an inner timekeeper — jet lag after a transatlantic flight, for example — could affect well-being and over time could contribute to the risks for various diseases.”
One of my biggest challenges with adjustment when I am away from home with my father are mealtimes. The circadian rhythms prepare your body to efficiently digest your food by absorbing and metabolizing food earlier in the day, meaning that larger meals are processed better when eaten in the first half of the day. Eating an early dinner in my family is impossible. Because melatonin released at night reduces insulin, the body is not able to process glucose properly when you eat late at night. Therefore, eating larger meals earlier in the day and avoiding food a few hours before bedtime is a healthier choice.
In a randomized weight loss study, obese women with who ate earlier in the day lost more weight. Observational studies in people also found that late night eating is associated with obesity and can out your cardiometabolic health at risk.
Satchin Panda is a professor at the Salk Institute and a founding executive member of the Center for Circadian Biology at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Panda is also the author of “The Circadian Code,” in which he explains his theory that our overall health and longevity are affected more by when we eat than what we eat. Timing, he says, is everything. Limiting the number of hours during which we consume our meals is pivotal to nurturing the body clock and could help us avoid the chronic diseases of old age.
I hope that you are reading this and thinking about your circadian rhythms or biological clock. Ayurveda (a holistic approach to medicine) understood the importance of our natural biological clock over thousands of years, prescribing optimal times for eating, sleeping, and working, linking the energies in our bodily constitution (doshas). It’s good to know that science has caught up with the ayurvedic clock.
Feel free to share your thoughts with me: [email protected].
Ashton Graham is an educator, book publisher, photographer, cowgirl and yoga enthusiast. She is currently studying to become a certified yoga therapist and lives on a ranch in West Texas.
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