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 Circadian rhythms
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Circadian rhythms

These 24-hour cycles keep you on schedule


 
Body Rhythm


Are you sleepy sometimes in the afternoon? Do you seem to handle physical tasks more easily late in the day? If so, you already know about circadian rhythms.

Your body has more than 100 circadian rhythms. Each unique 24-hour cycle influences an aspect of your body's function, including body temperature, hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure-- even pain threshold. Understanding how these cycles interplay is fascinating. And, in some cases, you may be able to plan your day to take advantage of your body's natural rhythms.


How your body keeps time

In your brain is a type of "pacemaker" called the suprachiasmatic (soo-prah-ki-az-MAT-ik) nuclei. This area of your brain regulates the firing of nerve cells that seem to set your circadian rhythms.

Scientists can't explain precisely how this area in your brain "keeps time." They do know your brain relies on outside influences, "zeitgebers" (ZITE-ga-berz), to keep it on a 24-hour schedule.

The most obvious zeitgeber is daylight. When daylight hits your eyes, cells in the retinas signal your brain. Other zeitgebers are sleep, social contact and even regular meal times. They all send "timekeeping" clues to your brain, helping keep your circadian rhythms running according to schedule.

Rhythms control your day

Almost no area of your body is unaffected by circadian rhythms.

Sleep and wake--It may seem you sleep when you're tired and wake when you're rested. But your sleep patterns follow a circadian rhythm.

You're most likely to sleep soundly when your temperature is lowest, in the wee hours of the morning. You're also most likely to awaken when your temperature starts to rise around 6 to 8 a.m.

As you age, your brain's "pacemaker" loses cells. This changes your circadian rhythms, especially noticeable in how you sleep. You may nap more, have disrupted sleep and awaken earlier.


Temperature--Your temperature is lowest when you're inactive. And activity can make your temperature rise. But despite these factors, your temperature also follows a definite circadian rhythm.

In the late afternoon, your temperature can be as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in the morning. And it will rise and fall even if you never see daylight.


Hormone production--Almost all hormones are regulated, to some extent, by circadian rhythms.

Cortisol affects many body functions, including metabolism and regulation of your immune system. Its levels are highest between 6 and 8 a.m. and gradually decline throughout the day. If you change your daily sleeping schedule, the peak of cortisol's cycle changes accordingly.

Growth hormones stimulate growth in children and help maintain muscle and connective tissue in adults. Sleep triggers hormone production, regardless of when you go to bed. Production peaks during the first two hours of sleep. If you're sleep deprived, production drops.


Cardiovascular system--More strokes and heart attacks occur in the morning than at any other time of day. This makes some people wonder if morning exercise is safe.

But experts contend morning changes in your body--not exercise-- may be responsible for cardiovascular problems. Blood clots most rapidly at about 8 a.m.

Blood pressure also rises in the morning and stays elevated until late afternoon. Then it drops off and hits its lowest point during the night.

These changes occur independently of physical activity. Exercise at any time of the day is beneficial.

On the other hand, if you're training for athletic competition, you may have reason to schedule that event later in the day. Athletes seem to perform best in the late afternoon, when strength, body temperature and flexibility peak.


Pain tolerance--Athletes who compete late in the day may perform better because they can "gain" without as much "pain." Pain tolerance is highest in the afternoon. One study shows tooth pain is lowest in the late afternoon, a consideration when you schedule your next dental appointment.


Medication--Scientists are looking at how circadian rhythms affect the way your body uses medications. One finding is that less anesthesia is needed to cause analgesia or drowsiness when administered in the afternoon.

Experiments with cancer medications are trying to find the time of day when the drugs are the most helpful with the fewest side effects.


Stay on schedule

Changes in daily habits such as a short night's sleep can disrupt your circadian rhythms. You may be able to stay "in sync" by keeping a consistent daily schedule.


Stay on schedule

Changes in daily habits such as a short night's sleep can disrupt your circadian rhythms. You may be able to stay "in sync" by keeping a consistent daily schedule.

 

             Quranic Shifa