This month, hypnotherapist Karen Martin, who is based at Salomons Estate, looks at the issue of maintaining a healthy body clock with the changing of the seasons…
Are you an owl or a lark? Either way, your feathers were likely to be a little ruffled when the clocks changed at the end of October. The autumn ‘fall back’ from British Standard Time (BST) to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) treats us to an extra hour of sleep.
But if you’re an owl like me, you may feel robbed of an hour of daylight at the end of a gloomy winter’s day. And when the clocks ‘spring forward’ next March giving us an hour less snooze time, we’re all destined to be a bit crabbier and more tired for a day or two.
Whether this matters or not is a cause for debate. Changing the clocks does not create extra daylight but instead shifts the time of sunrise and sunsets. This time change can cause disruptions to our body clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.
The body goes through natural cycles each day. The circadian rhythm regulates sleep and wakefulness, as well as affecting appetite, body temperature, hormones, the immune system and mood.
Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is difficult with our brightly lit, 24/7 lifestyle which defies the ebb and flow and rise and fall of the natural world. Technology and time are man-made ways of defying nature, enabling us to work, rest and play regardless of changing seasons or when the sun rises and sets.
“The circadian rhythm regulates sleep and wakefulness and affects appetite, body temperature, hormones and mood”
In pre-industrial times, it was normal to sleep when it got dark and wake at dawn. As darkness sets in, the body’s biological clock instructs the cells to slow down. The hormone melatonin starts to rise and sends us to sleep. Production peaks around 2.00am to 4.00am and then reduces by morning when other chemicals like cortisol activate wakefulness.
Nearly every tissue and organ contains its own biological clock. These are the result of certain proteins interacting with cells in the body, instructing them to be more active or to slow down.
Regardless of GMT or time zones, one master clock in the body controls all these individual clocks. In humans, the master clock is a structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which contains about 20,000 nerve cells and receives direct input from the eyes.
As the eyes perceive the bright light of day or the darkness of night, the SCN picks up on this information, telling cells to act accordingly. Light keeps the circadian rhythm in sync with a 24-hour day.
Night shifts and jet lag are known to disturb the circadian rhythm. In addition, many of us have unhealthy habits or other factors which mess up our body clocks to a harmful degree like:
- going out late and waking up early
- having no set sleep time
- eating and drinking late at night
- consuming caffeine late at night
- using electronic devices late at night
- performing mentally stimulating activities late in the day
- living with pain or discomfort
The conscious mind has no control of the biochemical fluctuations of the circadian rhythm. Lifestyle changes can make a difference. In our fast-paced world, the natural rhythm of our bodies and brain are often overruled or disregarded out of necessity and expectation. It’s hard to imagine a life without that imbalance. For some, the pandemic lockdowns may have been an opportunity to slow down and reset. However, most of us have returned to our normal routine of burning the candle at both ends.
My favourite times of year are spring and autumn, when the seasons shift, the weather is mellow and the clocks change. These are the times when the natural cycle of growth and decay are most evident. If you want to get away from the relentless ticking of man-made clocks, the countryside and seashore are where you’ll find respite from the tyranny of time…
The manipulation of time extends wakefulness and disrupts sleep to a degree that can lead to all kinds of health issues like:
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Sleep apnea
- Heart attack
- Depression and anxiety