This week we’re delving into one of the essential factors in your long-term health: the chronobiome. Your biological clocks were designed by nature to keep you resting, eating, and active at certain times of the day. Many people who work night shifts experience health issues possibly arising from the disruption of these circadian systems. In this article, we’ll go over the many facets of the chronobiome and how you can create good habits using current technology.
If you want to live on earth, you’d better learn to adapt to the environment. With so many unique locations, there are profound differences in the temperatures and length of days dependent on where you’re standing. To ensure survival, most organisms have evolved with an internal biological timer that senses day/night cycles and helps them adjust their life habits accordingly. These internal clocks are known as “circadian rhythms” and are as ancient as life itself- even existing in bacteria.
Circadian rhythms are set on a 24-hour rhythm oscillator that links external stimuli to physiological processes. For example, darkness is an external variable that can trigger the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, in the human brain. However, early studies of plants showed that even when kept in darkness, the flowers would open and close rhythmically with the sunrise, proving it possible that deep in the genes of the plant was a clock operating independently- without the external stimuli. The existence of a “clock gene” would be proven in 1997.
In 2017, the Nobel Prize for physiology went to three American researchers for their work with the chronobiome. Thanks to their research on the circadian rhythms of fruit flies, we have gained a wealth of knowledge about biological clocks and the molecular machinery that controls them.
It turns out, chronobiology (the branch of biology focused on natural physiological rhythms) is an important field for understanding aging and disease. Circadian clocks regulate sleep, eating habits, blood pressure, body temperature, and hormone release. If clock genes are stymied in animals, there’s a subsequent arrhythmic production of hormones such as insulin and corticosterone. These clock genes are also responsible for controlling insulin sensitivity, blood glucose, and other essential processes for a healthy metabolism.
The chronobiome also has an effect on sleep which is vital for normal brain function. Disruption of circadian rhythms (like working overnight shifts) has been linked to sleep disorders, depression, memory problems, bipolar disorder, and eventually, can lead to neurological diseases. This is why you should try your best to align your lifestyle with the natural rhythms determined by your inner biological clock. Sleeping during the night, staying active during the day, and being intentional with your eating patterns.
The Power of Timing
In the wake of chronobiology, researchers are beginning to understand how important it is to be in sync with the biological clocks ticking inside you. From a Functional Medicine approach, regulating the chronobiome is a great way to optimize your health. There are genetic tests that can give you valuable information about your personal chronotype as well as adjustments you can make in your daily life to help regulate your circadian rhythm:
Practice Healthy Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important factors when discussing health and longevity. So many vital processes happen while we sleep that stave off neurological and metabolic disease. By going to bed each day at the same time and waking at the same time, we tune into the inner clock and all the functions that go along with it.
There are many hacks people use to increase the quality and duration of their sleep. A major one is to limit exposure to phones, tablets, and televisions two hours before bed. Recent studies have suggested that the blue light emitted from these devices disrupts the circadian rhythm and over time can cause degeneration of eye health. Some health enthusiasts employ the use of blue-light blocking glasses if they must use their phone or laptop before sleeping.
Light is the main stimulus for your internal clock. Today we are bombarded by artificial lightbulbs that confuse the chronobiome and make it harder to keep a balanced circadian rhythm. Research has found that LED lights with an emission peak of around 470-480 nm should be used instead of LEDs with an emission peak below 450 nm. You can also find lightbulbs on the market specifically designed to regulate your chronobiome.
To take a deeper dive and see what quality of sleep you’re getting, consider using an Ouraring or similar monitoring device. These will show you not only how long you’re sleeping, but if you’re hitting that all-important REM cycle as well. Knowledge is power. The more you’re able to hone in on what’s happening inside your body, the more educated your health decisions will be going forward.
Because of our access to light 24/7, modern humans are able to eat any time of day. This might not be a good thing.
Studies show that circadian rhythm-proficient organisms have a natural cycle of feeding and fasting. The circadian oscillator regulates these feeding times and the metabolic functions that must occur to facilitate them. When you’re eating at night, your circadian rhythm gets thrown off, disrupting the natural cycles of feeding and fasting and may contribute to metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular complications.
It is advisable to become aware of your own eating times. Do you eat at night? Are you fasting for at least 16 hours between meals? How many meals are you eating daily? Taking small steps to get on an eating schedule that works for your lifestyle and mimics the natural fasting/feeding rhythm can do wonders for regulating hormones, insulin, and other vital processes to keep your healthy longer.
Please check with your physician before making any extreme lifestyle changes.
Functional medicine aims to treat all causes of disease at the root, preferably before they manifest. By living in alignment with the natural biological clocks that regulate the most important functions in your body, you can begin optimizing your health and helping your body continue doing what it does best- thrive.
At the Institute for Human Optimization, we believe having a regulated chronobiome is an essential part of disease prevention. We strive to work with you, regardless of your sleeping habits, to help you hack your body’s natural systems and reap the aging benefits that come with it.
You can schedule a discovery call and determine if you’re ready to take the next steps to optimize your health.