Chronobiology (Natural cycles)

Chronobiology is the study of physiological rhythm of the body’s internal “clock.” It is the natural rhythm that used to be in sync with the natural rhythms of time and seasons, in nature. Unfortunately it is consistently underrated and/or ignored by western medicine, when treating patients for stress and feeling tired all the time. 

In an article by Dr. Frank Lipman (in the Complete Yoga Journal-magazine), he explained that he went on a search, as it were, to find out why more and more patients / people in today’s world, is complaining about exhaustion, lack of sleep, having little / no sex drive, feeling as if they are “running on empty” and feeling and/or looking older than what they are.

In his quest for answers, Dr. Lipman realized that the only time he never saw patients that suffered from this, was when he was working in a rural area in South Africa.  People didn’t have electricity to stay warm during winter, so they went to bed when the sun went down, and got up when the sun came up.  Because there were no supermarkets, they had to eat what was in season.

Modern day stress syndrome has become epidemic; however, western medicine still does not recognize its existence, let alone have any answers for it!  Yet it has been proven that the human body has more than 100 Circadian rhythms that are roughly based on the 24-hour cycles in nature.  These natural cycles influence the body’s functions, for example the sleep- and wake cycles, the body’s temperature, the hormone levels, brain wave activity, heart rate, blood pressure an even pain threshold.  Although more people are admitting that these rhythms exist, many still ignore it or don’t appreciate it when it comes to our health and well-being.

Chinese medicine recognized that the human body (humans) do not exist in isolation; but that we are part of the natural world and governed by universal forces of nature.  Humans have internal “body clocks” that are set precisely to these rhythms and cycles.  The “master clock” is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a group of cells that are located in the hypothalamus.  The latter uses signals like light and darkness to stimulate the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, which tell us when to wake up or go to sleep.  When the SCN is destructed or disturbed, it results in a complete absence of a regular sleep/wake rhythm.  Natural light is the “drummer” in the human body’s physiological band that keeps the beat and it is this that our body clocks use to “get in tune” with the natural cycles.

Dr. Lipman delved deeper and looked into the field of genomics (the studying of genes).  This triggered an “aha-“moment for him.  He explained that, not only did we evolve over millennia as people who lived in harmony with day and night and seasons, but these cycles and rhythms became imprinted in our genes.  This is almost identical to that of our ancestors and it is still there, but modern society has pushed us into living at a foreign, unnatural pace.

The only time many of us become aware of our body’s natural rhythms (and its importance), is when we have jet lag.  Anybody who has flown over different time zones will tell you that they felt sluggish, tired, struggled sleeping, and so on.  This changes after a few days when your body’s internal clock adjusts again.

Modern society has isolated mankind from being in sync with these natural, cyclical rhythms, by creating artificial environments that insulate us from seasons, daylight and darkness.  Artificial light is used to extend our activities well into the night and/or day and we don’t get enough natural light.  This causes havoc; not only on our physical bodies, but also our emotional bodies.

Our bodies are made up of between 70% – 80% fluids (water) – is it any wonder then that the moon cycles, for example, can affect us just like it affects the oceans’ tides?  In the days when there were no artificial lights, and so on, people lived much closer to and in harmony with nature and its cycles. 

The above example is the bad news.  The good news is that the body, when given a chance, will heal itself an reset its genetic clock.  When your body’s natural rhythms are in sync, you have more energy, everyday tasks are easier to do, you don’t feel stressed or tired, and life is just easier and happier.  Athletes call this “being in the zone” or “having their game on.”

In his book Spent:  End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again (Hay House Books), Dr. Lipman gives these tips that will help you to reset your body’s clock and rediscover your natural rhythm:

  • Get some natural light during the day by going for a walk; preferably in nature;
  • Keep a consistent, daily schedule.  Regardless of what time you went to bed, get up every morning at the same time;
  • Have an “electronic sundown.”  At around 10 pm, turn off all your electronics – your cell phone, television, computer, and so on;
  • Darken your room completely.  Your bedroom should be completely dark.  Therefore, if there are any lights glimmering (like the cell phone charger, alarm clock, and so on), it can stop your melatonin levels from rising.  These levels are necessary to induce sleep and reach the level of deep, restorative sleep.  If you cannot darken the room (on airplanes, for example), wear an eye mask;
  • Eat in accordance with your body’s natural rhythms.  Because your metabolism peaks at noon, try to eat a bigger breakfast and lunch, and a smaller dinner.  If you and your family eat your main course in the evening, try to eat it before 19:00 and not later than 21:00.  There are people who struggle to eat a big breakfast.  Listen to your body but remember, your body cannot start its day “running on empty,” so eat something small or drink a smoothie.  Otherwise you will not only struggle with energy-dips and tiredness during the day, but when you skip breakfast, you will also struggle with and/or not be able to lose weight (if you are trying to). 
  • Good fats (Omega 3’s and 6’s) and protein are the energy-sources that your body needs for fuel during the day.  Having an egg and/or cheese with a slice of brown, rye or whole wheat toast, or a smoothie for breakfast, are good examples.  Cooked oats with cinnamon and honey / little bit of sugar, or rolled oats / muesli with added nuts and seeds, are also good to have for breakfast.  Sugary foods, like bagels, muffins, sugary cereals (like corn flakes) and other processed foods, are the worst choices when it comes to sustaining energy and fuel; let alone staying healthy – avoid it at all costs!   

In order to find “your groove,” remember; it is not just psychological but also physiological as well.  Small lifestyle changes can make you feel much more energetic, make you sleep better and reclaim your vitality! Listen to your body!!

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