Keep Your Internal Clock on Time for Better Health


Graphic Depiction of Circadian Clock

Humans are born with an internal clock, also known as our circadian rhythm. This natural phenomenon helps us know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to get up. Before the advent of artificial lighting, our internal clock was well matched to the rising and setting sun. In today's 24-hour world, many individual's sleep schedules have been severely disrupted. Whether you just started working the late shift or stayed up all night with a sick family member, your circadian rhythm was most likely impacted by the change to your sleep pattern.

Circadian rhythms are found in most living things including plants and microbes. They are the physical, mental and behavioral changes that help living organisms best respond to light and darkness. In a normal sleep cycle, your body releases a hormone called melatonin in response to darkness so you know it is time to sleep. People with circadian rhythm sleep disorders struggle to sleep and wake at the times required for their daily routine. However, when allowed to sleep and wake at times dictated by their internal clock, those with sleep cycle disorders recover quickly.

Inconsistencies Can Lead to Health Consequencies

If you're stuck working the late shift, it is still important to maintain as normal of a sleep schedule as possible. Simple inconsistencies in your sleep and wake routine can have important health consequences. According to a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, middle-aged adults with greater sleep discrepancy tended to:

  • Gain more weight
  • Have higher cholesterol scores
  • Were more insulin resistant

The results of the study concluded that these negative health issues occurred with the simplest disruption to one's circadian clock. Even minor inconsistencies to someone's sleep schedule, such as sleeping later on weekends than during the week, caused problems. According to WebMD, once you get out of rhythm, the problem can continue well beyond feeling groggy the next day. Fact is, it can be harder to fall asleep or wake up on time for days following any change to your internal clock.

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