You are probably thinking right now “Hello, this is the 21st century, how can you possibly expect me to plan my life around the rise and fall of the sun?” We understand that this may not always be the most practical strategy to implement into your life. We understand that it’s important to get up early to take the kids to hockey practice, to enjoy a late night out with friends, or even work into the wee hours of the morning to hit a deadline. This is the world we live in and it’s not going to change anytime soon. So why would we write and an article on this? After all, we are trying to make life less complicated for you, not more. Quite simply we would be doing you a disservice if we left it out.
There is very strong research implicating the disruption of daily rhythms (known as your circadian rhythm) and the association with reduced mental performance along with higher rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America researchers wanted to test the effects of a sleep and eating schedule that did not fit the traditional 24 hour circadian rhythm. They essentially put participants on a 28 hr day to disrupt normal eating and sleeping patterns over an eight day period. This disruption resulted in significantly lower levels of leptin (an appetite suppressing hormone) and increased blood sugar levels despite increased insulin (the beginning stages of diabetes). In fact 3 of the 8 participants had blood sugar levels in the pre diabetic range following meals. Although this is an extreme example of circadian disruption, the implications of straying further and further from the circadian rhythm established during our evolutionary past is what’s important. Although the invention of electricity has provided us with many wonderful things, it has also allowed us to stay up late into the night, while being exposed to artificial light. In essence this is going against our internal biological clock, which is trying to slow us down and prepare for us for sleep. Anytime we try and go against thousands of years of evolutionary behaviour in a relatively short period of time (50-100 years) unfortunate consequences are likely to arise.
So as you have probably guessed, we are not going to ask you to live as a hermit, never go out at night, or keep all lights and other electronic devices turned off once the sun has set. That would be unpractical in this day and age and would dramatically affect the quality of life we have come to enjoy. So a balance needs to be struck between honouring your natural circadian rhythm and still having a social life and enjoying modern day technology after dark. A good rule of thumb would be to try and set a curfew on work and chores, for example 8 pm, in which after that time you will keep the lighting in the house lower and spend time with your family doing calming things such as talking, reading, or watching TV. Also, try and establish a regular eating routine that begins within an hour or so of waking and concludes a couple hours before bed, roughly 8 pm. How about going out at night? Enjoying a social life is an essential part of health and longevity, so if your friends and family are going out, go with them and forget about your circadian rhythm!