What we refer to as our body clock is also known as circadian rhythms. These influence an organism's daily cycle of behavioral, physical and mental changes. The rhythms are generated within organisms and also in response to external stimuli, mainly light and darkness. They are found throughout the living world, from bacteria to plants, fungi to animals. In us humans, circadian rhythms are most noted in our sleep patterns. Understand your body clock and function more efficiently and effectively and also, sleep better.
To understand your body clock you have to realize there isn’t just a single clock but many inside your body. The master clock is located in your brain in the hypothalamus, and it acts like a conductor. It sends regular signals through your body at different times of the day.
These clocks are found in all our organs and body tissues, and are located in special cells. These cells are coordinated by the master clock in the brain.
Not only are there special cells act as clocks, but each individual cell has its own internal clock. Each cell, as a result, has the capacity to generate a 24-hour oscillation.
The theory is that the earliest cells may have developed both photosensitivity and circadian rhythms at the same time to avoid UV damage from the sun. That way, they could repair themselves at night.
You don’t even realize all this is happening, but your body clock does. Our internal clocks help us anticipate night and day, and letting the body know when to repair cells. The clock also helps our bodies anticipate summer and winter to prepare for the changes that happen during those seasons.
As the evening approaches, our bodies often start slowing down, and after a while it tells us it’s time to go to sleep, and the urge becomes almost irresistible. That’s the internal clock kicking in!
Humans aren’t the only creatures to have internal clocks. It’s believed that any organism that draws energy from sunlight also has a circadian rhythm. Even plants - experiments showed that the leaves of mimosas still opened and closed in the dark, following its own internal clock rather than the sun.
Not only do we have a 24-hour clock, but we also have one that responds to the seasons. As the nights grow longer, we tend to sleep more and perhaps gain a few pounds in preparation for winter. Bears hibernate, deer prepare to mate, and plants lose their leaves, all according to their internal clocks.
Our internal clocks become out of step if there is no light to regulate them. We have sensors in our eyes that detect light and send information to the part of our brain that keeps our body clocks on time.
Jet lag occurs because our internal clocks are on one time and our physical body is on another time. Your body and clock will eventually synchronize, but it sometimes takes a day or two.
People who work late shifts often experience social jet lag. The mismatch between their biological time and social time is a constant battle between when their body wants to wake up and when the alarm clock actually goes off. Some studies suggest that this could contribute to depression, obesity, heart disease and cancer.
As teenagers, the influx of hormones can delay the clock by as much as two hours. During our early adult and midlife years we tend to get up earlier. As we age, we need a little more sleep and may want to get up an hour later of go to bed earlier.
Researching this answered a few questions for me. I find it fascinating – the rhythm of life! How in tune with your body clock are you?
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