Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wisdom Wednesday: Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in the environment. They are found in most living things, including tiny microbes.

Biological clocks throughout the body control these rhythms. The “master clock” or suprachissmatic nucleus (SCM) is located in the hypothalamus of the brain. Circadian rhythms influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other body functions. They have been linked to various sleep disorders, including insomnia.

As daylight strikes our eyes this information is relayed to the brain, the SCM receives this data and stimulates the pineal gland to produce melatonin. At night, the SCM activates the melatonin, cutting off most of the stimulation to the hypothalamus, and we get drowsy.

Melatonin is a hormone and it has a modulating effect on all the other hormones in the body. Please review these two blogs – “The Evolution of Sleep: 700 Million Years of Melatonin” posted on 10/13/14 and “Chaste Tree” posted 8/20/14. This modulating effect pushes hormone production toward homeostasis. The effect is mild, but often very effective. So if your testosterone is a little low and the estrogen a little high, melatonin will drive the testosterone production up and the estrogen production down.

Clinically, the two most revealing questions I ask my patients are “How are you sleeping?” and “How is your sex drive?” The answers tell me much about the patient’s general health, specifically how well the endocrine system is functioning. Typically, new patients are struggling in both these areas of function.

You can support your circadian rhythms by creating an environment for a healthy night’s sleep. Start to wind down before going to sleep. Turn off the TV and read a book or review some of the day’s pleasant events. Have a cup of hot tea (without caffeine). Eating a little bit of protein, like a piece of cheese or a few nuts can help you stay asleep as well.

When you are ready to fall asleep, darken the room. I mean really dark – draw the curtains, preferably blackout curtains and no lights – no night lights, TV, cell phone, or clock lights – nothing. This allows the SCM to activate the melatonin and shut out the world. The hypothalamus can now calm down and you will quickly fall asleep.

During the day, make sure you have exposure to real sunlight. Work near a window, go outside for lunch, or just take a short walk to exposure your body to the light. Now that daylight savings time is here, spend some time outdoors every evening. The late daylight will not burn your skin and remains effective at stimulating melatonin production.

The Bottom Line:
Early man rose with the sun, hunted and gathered food all day, rested by a fire in the evening and then slept in the dark. If you can mimic this pattern, you will sleep better and even your sex life might improve.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments Await Approval Before Posting