Some of you may have noticed that I keep posting pictures of myself – in more and more layers of clothing – sitting eating my breakfast in my garden. For those of you who might have wondered why….this is where all will be revealed 🙂 It is all linked to circadian rhythms.
Every organ in the body has its own circadian rhythm. It is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. During this 24 hour cycle each organ has a time when it is winding down and getting ready to rest and move to a “rest and repair” phase, followed by a time when the organ gradually wakes up and moves towards a “peak” period when it is functioning optimally. Different organs have different “peak” times. Circadian rhythms affect every cell, gene, hormone and chemical in our bodies. And they affect the health of our gut and the microbiome – even the microbes our colon have individual circadian rhythms – all tens of trillions of them. Each has its own rhythm – its own 24 hour cycle.
Our circadian rhythms are encoded in our DNA: it is like having an internal clock – so if we were locked in a room with no windows, no way of tuning into what time of day it is – our body would still follow these rhythms. These rhythms can adapt, however, when our modern lives are regulated by British Summertime, or we travel across different time zones. They can also adapt if we do shift work – or have other reasons to change out waking / sleeping pattern.
But… when we ignore or work against these rhythms for long periods – and modern life often leads us to do just that – our health is affected. Some of us have more robust health, stronger constitutions, and are less affected – others are impacted more – but all of us will be affected.
I am getting closer to explaining the breakfast link 🙂
The obvious thing we can try and do to support our circadian rhythm – and not put our bodies through unnecessary stress – is to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time each day – and allocate an adequate time to wind down, relax and sleep.
But in order to do the best we can to support our bodies in this way we can also use light to help our circadian clock. The brain is very sensitive to light and this gives us an extra tool to support our health.
Many of you will be aware that we are encouraged not to use digital devices near to bedtime – that the blue light on phone and computer screens can affect our ability to get a good night’s sleep. And many of you will use blue light filters to try and reduce the impact.
But we can also proactively use blue light to positive effect. Some of you may have heard of “light boxes” – a powerful light source giving out “full spectrum light” – which closely mimics daylight and helps people with seasonal affective disorder.
I promise I will get back to the outdoor breakfast soon 🙂
All our circadian rhythms work together. It appears that our brain synchronises all our circadian rhythms. Our brain links us with the rhythms of our external world through a blue light sensing protein in our eyes called melanopsin.
When our eyes detect the blue light particularly prevalent in the early morning this sends a powerful message to both our brain and every cell in our body that resets our circadian rhythm each morning.
Unfortunately many of us spend so much time indoors that it is not always possible to expose our eyes to bright natural blue light each morning – and conversely our eyes may be exposed to blue light from phones and other screens into the evening – when there is little natural blue light. Our ancestors would have received less blue light stimulation – so in the evening the melanopsin would have naturally become deactivated – and preparing them for sleep.
So back to breakfast 🙂
Obviously it is not always possible, but if we get the chance – exposing ourselves to natural outdoor light each morning really supports our circadian rhythms and supports our health and wellbeing 🙂 It allows this vital internal clock – which regulates every cell, every microbe, every hormone in our body – to give our bodies the best chance of both “peak” functioning, and taking full advantage of the “reset and repair” bit of the daily cycle. Sometimes I manage a quick early stroll, or a morning potter about my garden, or an outdoor breakfast – it doesn’t matter how we get this exposure to morning light – but when I do – I sleep better and my digestion is happier 🙂