What is your biological clock and how does it affect sleep?
A biological clock is your body’s internal timing device; it’s the master clock that is in charge of your sleep-wake cycle. And because it rules your sleep, which is the backbone of health, your biological clock has a profound impact on your overall wellness. Read: your mood, mental alertness, heart function, hunger, and aging (ever heard the phrase, “my biological clock is ticking?). So let’s explore how to keep your biological clock in tick-tock shape.
What is the biological clock in humans?
Biological clocks are found in nearly every tissue and organ in your body. Imagine a set of internal clocks, all ticking and running according to a schedule. These mini clocks are responsible for different bodily activities and report to a master clock (your biological clock), situated in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This master clock regulates your circadian rhythm, which tells your body when you feel hungry, what time you wake up and even how hot or cold you are.
Why is the biological clock important?
Your biological clock is the starring act in maintaining a balanced sleep-wake cycle (how alert you feel and how sleepy you feel). Exposure to light helps the body to produce a hormone called melatonin which is released slowly throughout the day, building up to that sleepy feeling in the evening. Your biological clock also manages the scheduled release of other hormones, like ghrelin, which controls your appetite.
What affects your biological clock?
Did you know? Your biological clock can be manipulated and tuned according to external and internal factors like certain sleep disorders, depression and travel. Take a look:
Exposure to light in the morning signals to your brain that it should slow the production and release of melatonin. Right after you’ve woken up in the morning, try opening your windows to let light in or go for a walk outside. This exposure to sunlight helps to reset your biological clock.
If you’re a shift worker, it’s likely your sleep patterns have changed to adapt to working through the night and sleeping during the day. This throws your biological clock off-kilter and makes it difficult to get the rest you need during the day and stay awake on the job at night.
A trip to Tokyo from London will land you in a time zone that is 8 hours ahead of what you are typically used to. The effect is that upon landing you could feel disorientated, tired and still in tune with London time. It’s only after a couple of days that you’re able to adjust to the new time zone as your biological clock has to reset itself.
How to reset your clock
Your internal clock is flexible and able to reset itself. Here are some ways you can help your body fast track the process.
Adjust your bedtime
If you can go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, your sleep cycle will benefit from the consistency. That’s because your biological clock will become trained to set times, resulting in fewer interruptions to your sleep.
Reduce stimulants before bed
Caffeine triggers your brain to stay alert, so you’ll find it tricky to fall asleep. Rather avoid nicotine and caffeine so your biological clock won’t react to the jolt of energy that these stimulants produce.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Are you guilty of staying up with your phone, scrolling through Instagram or catching up on the latest Netflix series? Then you’re doing your biological clock a great disservice because the light emitted from devices, including TVs, tricks the brain into staying awake. By practicing good sleep hygiene, you can speed up your body clock reset.
The later you eat, the more work your body has to do to digest the food. The liver, for one, releases enzymes to help break down food, and if you dine after 8pm, this forces your body to process the food instead of it slowing down and resting. Readjusting your mealtimes will contribute significantly to a well-tuned biological clock.
Maintain a balanced diet
Including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low GI foods will provide a great starting point for your body clock to work well. Your diet fuels your energy levels which in turn affect your levels of alertness and sleepiness.
Keep track of your biological rhythm
Slotting in enough shut-eye, taking naps to recharge yourself throughout the day, exercise, a well-balanced diet and managing your stress levels are all habits that you can follow to keep track of your biological rhythm so that you feel more mentally alert and productive during the day and able to sleep better at night.